June 21, 2012

VUMC certified as leader in meeting LGBTI health needs

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From left, Kristen Eckstrand, Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., MPH, and Andre Churchwell, M.D., are leading LGBTI diversity efforts. (photo by Joe Howell)

VUMC certified as leader in meeting LGBTI health needs

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s commitment to meeting the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community has been recognized with certification awarded to the institution by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as a Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) “Leader in Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Healthcare.”

By meeting the “Core Four” rated criteria in the HEI survey: patient non-discrimination policies, visitation policies, employment non-discrimination policies and training in LGBTI patient-centered care, Vanderbilt is one of only 234 hospitals and clinics in the nation and the only one in Tennessee to receive this designation.

Andre Churchwell, M.D., associate dean for Diversity for the School of Medicine, said the designation is a source of pride and the result of a concerted effort by a number of people across the Medical Center campus to address equality in health care for the LGBTI community.

“The leadership at Vanderbilt, including those at the highest levels at both the Medical Center and the University, has made this a priority. There is an understanding that a broader definition of diversity is crucial for success, if you don’t have this broad view of patient and employee equality, success as a medical center is not possible.”

Churchwell also announced the creation of a new program within the Office of Diversity. Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Anesthesiology, and M.D./Ph.D. student Kristen Eckstrand will co-direct the new Program in LGBTI Health.

“I think it is safe to say that while Vanderbilt has always had a forward-thinking policy of inclusion, that there is a new articulation and emphasis on programming and developing resources around supporting the health of LGBTI patients,” Ehrenfeld said. “Going through the HEI certification process, we realized that these resources needed a defined home. We’re in the early formative phases of this program. We’re excited, but there’s more work to be done.”

Ehrenfeld and Eckstrand, who have worked to address health disparities for LGBTI patients, were among the Vanderbilt staff and faculty who were highly involved in achieving the HEI designation.

“Our first priority inside the Medical Center is the patients. We want to make sure that not only do LGBTI patients feel comfortable coming here and being open, but when they do, we want to make sure they get the care they deserve and that it is appropriate to them,” Eckstrand said.

The HEI 2012 report is based on the voluntary participation of hospital respondents. The annual survey has grown tremendously in participation since it began in 2007. This year, a record 122 surveys were completed, representing 407 individual health care facilities nationwide. The HEI survey questions apply to written policies and practices related to LGBTI health.

A survey by Lambda Legal in 2010 reported that 56 percent of LGB, and 70 percent of transgender patients reported bias or discrimination when accessing health care. According to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report, there is a great need for researchers to proactively engage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in health studies and data collection to identify and better understand health conditions that affect them.

Churchwell said it is important to note that the only other academic medical center that has both achieved the HEI Leadership designation and formed a dedicated office to LGBTI health and equality is the University of California in San Francisco, where much of the groundbreaking research in LGBTI disparities in health care has been done.

Both Eckstrand and Ehrenfeld say Vanderbilt is working to produce important research and is applying for further research grants in this area. And since national data shows that 64 percent of medical students report feeling inadequately trained to care for LGBTI patients, VUSM has also integrated training of key topics into the medical school curriculum.

“This model has been successful at Vanderbilt and can easily be replicated at other institutions across the country,” Eckstrand said.

VUSM’s Office of Diversity will handle all requests for information about the new program at lgbti.health@vanderbilt.edu or visit https://medschool.vanderbilt.edu/lgbti/.