New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office will provide training to the state's hospitals on how to ensure equal access to care for transgender individuals.
The Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau is working with the Greater New York Hospital Association to address the challenges transgender patients face in healthcare settings, as well as to ensure best practices from providers treating them.
Hospital leaders need to be educated about the unique needs of transgender individuals and the social difficulties they may face, but they also need to promote an attitude of acceptance and tolerance among their staff, said Perry Halkitis, a professor who studies LGBT health issues at New York University's Global Institute of Public Health.
“We're talking about everything as simple as understanding what it means (to be transgender) and understanding that gender identity is something that exists on a continuum,” Halkitis said.
Very little time is spent talking about gender identity in medical school, so provider education is important, Halkitis said. But hospitals also need to think about their facilities and processes, such as the need for gender-neutral bathrooms and appropriate forms for patients who may not be comfortable identifying simply as either “male” or “female.”
A survey of transgender people in 2011 found that 24% had been denied equal treatment in a doctor's office or hospital, according to statistics from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The Institute of Medicine released a report (PDF) in 2011 calling for further research on the health status of LGBT individuals.
Even in New York City, one of the nation's most LGBT-friendly areas, Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights group, found that few hospitals had protocols or education in place for providers dealing with transgender patients, with the exception of a few forward-thinking facilities.
Hoping to resolve the issue, staff members at the New York attorney general's office, along with experts from Lambda Legal, led a series of briefings for members of the Greater New York Hospital Association's LGBT Workgroup. Planned programming will be targeted for diversity and quality officers, legal counsel, compliance personnel and other relevant administrators.
“It's the first time I've seen a state official have this kind of leadership where he's sending a message to trans New Yorkers, but also to the nation, that transgender people's treatment in hospital settings and medical settings matters and needs protections,” said M. Dru Levasseur, director of the Transgender Rights Project at Lambda Legal.