The University of Toledo Medical Center has been named a 2012 “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” thanks to its staff’s commitment to the equal treatment of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients.“This is something that we’ve been working on for a number of years, and we’re glad to finally achieve this status,” said Dr. Shanda Gore, UT associate vice president for equity, diversity and community engagement.
UTMC is one of only 71 medical facilities nationwide to achieve this status, one of 10 in the state, and the only one with this designation in northwest Ohio. In order to be considered a leader, hospitals had to answer a series of questions on the Health Equality Index survey. Only 407 hospitals nationwide chose to respond, 35 of which were from Ohio. The Buckeye State had the third-largest amount of respondents, with California in first and Washington in second.
The Health Equality Index is sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve LGBT equality. The annual survey, now in its sixth year, consists of questions that determine whether a hospital meets the core requirements to become a leader.
“As health-care providers, we have a requirement to be inclusive of all diversity, and LGBT is one that has often been overlooked,” said Norma Tomlinson, associate vice president and associate executive director at UTMC.
The 2012 requirements were the inclusion of the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the written patient nondiscrimination policy, as well as in the employment nondiscrimination policy; an explicitly inclusive visitation policy that grants equal access to same-sex couples as well as same-sex parents; and training for key staff members in LGBT patient-centered care. All questions in the survey related to one of these requirements.
“The core was really very easy to meet except for our employee training in LGBT patient-centered care,” Tomlinson said. Last year, this requirement was the only thing that stood in the way of UTMC earning its status. She said this was made easier this year with the help of webinars provided by the Health Equality Index.
In order to meet the diversity training requirement, at least one management employee from the areas of administration, nursing leadership, service excellence, human resources and registration had to be educated and trained in LGBT patient-centered care.
“Even though this year the only requirement was educating these key members, we need to educate our staff so that everybody is welcoming to all of our patients and visitors regardless of their values, beliefs and lifestyle,” Tomlinson said. “We need to educate all of our people — from registration to caregivers and others that interact with patients and their families.”
The hospital’s definition of family has changed thanks to the Health Equality Index, and in fact the current policies involving family have come directly from ideas promoted by the survey. One part of the visitation policy defines the term “family/visitor” as “a person who plays a significant role in an individual’s life.”
“When people come to registration, their first encounter with us, they have to pick their marital status — we have a choice called life partner,” Tomlinson said. “Right there, you’re setting up an open, welcoming environment.”
Tomlinson has been working with Gore and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Community Engagement to make UTMC a leader for around three years now. Reaching this status has not only been a victory for UTMC, but for this office as well.
“It took a team to put this together, it wasn’t just one or two people,” Gore said. “I’m honored to be able to represent a number of people in the area of diversity, but it’s hats off to the hospital directly; they’re the ones doing the work on the front lines.”
Tomlinson hopes to help make UTMC even more comfortable for patients of all diversities. In order for the hospital to keep its “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” status, it must meet core requirements of the Health Equality Index every year.
“It’s been a great journey to get here, and we still have more work to do, but we’re excited to celebrate today and to roll up our sleeves and do more,” Gore said.