The Dayton VA Medical Center was one of 121 veterans hospitals demonstrating their commitment to equal treatment for patients regardless of sexual orientation by participating in the 2013 Healthcare Equality Index from the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
The survey assesses hospital practices in accommodating lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gender patients, and whether the hospitals voluntarily participating in the survey comply with legal and regulatory requirements for LGBT non-discrimination.
This year marked a major breakthrough in participation by veterans hospitals, who were encouraged by the U.S. Veterans Health Administration to participate in the survey following the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Last year, only one of the nation’s 152 veterans hospitals participated in the annual survey conducted since 2007. Overall, veterans hospitals accounted for about 17 percent of the 718 facilities that participated in the survey.
Several local LGBT activists applauded the dramatic “about-face” in participation by veterans hospitals this year as a long-awaited sign of progress.
“Progress has been made, yet further progress in acceptance is still needed,” said Randy Phillips, a spokesman for the Greater Dayton LGBT Center. “In this study, you see the Dayton VA hospital participated, yet was not listed as a VA medical center standout. Some progress is yet to be achieved.”
Phillips was referring to the “equality leader” designation given to hospitals that met all four core criteria on the survey for having: an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination policy; an LGBT-inclusive visitation policy; an LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination policy; and staff training in LGBT patient-centered care.
While the Dayton VA fell short, it easily could have qualified as an of the equality leader if it had been more transparent about the federal policies that it must comply with, said Shane Snowdon, director of the health and aging program for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
Inclusive visitation policy
For example, the entire VA system has a non-discrimination policy to protect LGBT patients, but at the time of the survey the Dayton VA did not explicitly ban gender identity discrimination in its patient’s bill of rights or its employment non-discrimination policies, Snowdon said.
The Dayton VA also was marked down for not disseminating materials explicitly telling patients and visitors about its LGBT — inclusive visitation policy.
Under new guidelines for hospitals that receive federal aid signed into law by President Barack Obama, same-sex partners now have the right to visit their loved ones in the hospital.
Previously, most hospitals restricted visitation to relatives only.
“The Dayton VA fell short because they didn’t make people aware at the local level that they’ve got national policies that meet our criteria,” Snowdon said. “They need to publicize these policies in order to be leaders. It doesn’t do me any good if I’m an LGBT patient or employee, but I can’t figure out if you’ve got a good policy for me or not.”
The Healthcare Equality Index was wake-up call for the Dayton VA, which has implemented many of its policy recommendations, said Kimberly Frisco, a hospital spokeswoman.
Since participating in the survey, the Dayton VA has incorporated the inclusion of LGBT non-discrimination language within its equal employment opportunity policy, conducted training in LGBT patient-centered care and identified a “special emphasis program manager” for LGBT concerns and issues, among other initiatives.
“Our goal is to have a healthcare facility committed to serving all veterans no matter the race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religious preference or sexual orientation,” Frisco said. “After seeing the requirements, I think that we have more than met the requirements to be an equality leader in the LGBT Healthcare Equality Index.”
Frisco pointed out that providing health care for LGBT patients was priority even before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, although, she said, the hospital doesn’t track the number of LGBT patients they treat because they’d have to ask every patient about their sexual orientation.
“It’s not as easy as asking if you’re male or female,” she said. “But I’ve worked here since 2008, and we’ve been treating LGBT patients for whatever needs they have ever since then.
“We treat them, we help them, we even have counseling for them, but we haven’t put anything in policy until just recently.”
For the first time this year, the Healthcare Equality Index included healthcare facilities from every state.
Ohio was second only to California in the number of hospitals participating in the survey. California accounted for 88 of the 718 facilities in the index. Fifty seven were from Ohio.
“I think the participation reflects the fact that some big hospital networks in Ohio went for it this year,” Snowdon said. “I give a lot of credit to the facilities that took it, did their best and hopefully learned a lot.”
In Ohio, those hospital networks included the TriHealth in Cincinnati, Ohio State University and the University Hospitals of Cleveland.