Regional hospitals score mixed results on Health Equality Index

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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.

Two Wisconsin hospitals participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2012 Health Equality Index survey, but both have a way to go before achieving the organization’s status of “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.”

The survey is in its third year.

Grant Regional Health Center in Lancaster was one of the two that responded. The center answered that it has a publicly available patient bill of rights that includes sexual orientation. But the center said it does not have a policy that offers same-sex couples or same-sex parents the same visitation rights as heterosexuals.

And while Grant Regional has an employment non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, it does not include gender identity. Nor does the center provide training in LGBT patient-centered care.

The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison also participated in the survey – and also fell short of earning leadership designation. Middleton Memorial does not have a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, although it does include gender identity. The hospital does not offer visitation rights to same-sex partners, but it does provide training for key staff in LGBT-centered care.

Although there is room for improvement, Middleton Memorial’s response to the survey in itself marks a big step forward, according to HRC spokesman Paul Guequierre: It’s is the first veteran’s hospital in the nation to respond to the index – a direct result of the lifting of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban.

“This is a sign of the ongoing progress that we’re making,” he said.

This year also marked the first time that a Catholic hospital participated in the survey – Bon Secours Health System, based in Richmond, Va.

While other Wisconsin hospitals did not participate, it’s not because they turned down the opportunity, Guequierre said. “It’s because they haven’t been contacted,” he explained. “We have not been able to do outreach to Wisconsin as much as we would like. We are working on expanding the program.”

Guequierre, a native of Whitewater, said he thinks a number of Wisconsin hospitals will score well on the survey when they are contacted.

The 2012 survey netted a 40-percent increase in the number of rated facilities, which totaled 407 nationwide. Two hundred and thirty-four received leadership designation, an increase of 162 percent.

“Just a few short years ago the health care industry wasn’t having conversations about LGBT healthcare equality,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “Now, thanks to advocacy by the LGBT community and some standout leaders, growing numbers of health care providers are making an explicit commitment to treat all patients with dignity and respect. The health care industry is beginning to heed the call for fairness and compassion.”

For Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital, the index provided a pathway for turning around operations that had suffered a high-profile embarrassment for its insensitive care.

Erin Vaught, a transgender woman, claimed she was called “it” and “he-she” – and eventually denied treatment when she visited the hospital’s ER on July 18, 2010, for a lung condition causing her to cough up blood.

After Indiana Equality and Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance filed complaints about the incident, the news went viral. The hospital shot to international fame.

In the wake of the incident, IU Health BMH president and CEO Mike Haley issued a challenge to all physicians, employees and volunteers to meet every key indicator on the Health Equality Index.

The challenge was met, and this year the hospital landed at the top of the list, becoming the only facility in Indiana to be recognized as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.”

“We are proud of the recognition,” Haley said. “It’s the result of a lot of hard work. ... It’s one thing to apologize. It’s another to say, ‘And furthermore, I want this hospital to be considered as a place anyone would want to go if they needed a hospital.’ ”

Jessica Wilch, a board member and past president of Indiana Equality, said she was not surprised the hospital “hit all of the marks” this year.

“They have become, essentially, one of the leading hospitals in the country, because it really started with them,” she said. “They were the ones who reached out to us and said ‘How can we make this better? How can we do the right thing?’ ”

Haley said he believed the training and policies developed at IU Health BMH will be used “across IU Health.”

Among neighboring states, three hospitals in Illinois received perfect scores – all located in Chicago. Those included Advocate Illinois Masonic, which is located in Lakeview, as well as Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Rush University Medical Center.

Other regional hospitals that achieved leadership status were University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City and Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Fifteen Michigan hospitals participated in the survey and received mixed scores.

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