All people need to feel safe, valued and able to freely express concerns without stigma or shame. Yet, time and time again, we see that some of our neighbors do not seek care because they feel they will be judged and that their needs will not be understood.
In a 2017 survey, the liberal Center for American Progress found that 8% of LGBTQ+ respondents were turned away from a provider because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Another 9% said that a provider had used harsh or abusive language when treating them.
For transgender persons, the statistics are even more startling—29% reported experiencing unwanted physical contact from a provider during a patient visit.
As a Latina and head of New Jersey’s largest public hospital, I have led the charge to make needed changes in how we achieve equality and inclusion. This has been essential to how we engage our patients, their families, our medical staff and 2,000 employees, and the broad and diverse community we serve.
Over the past 2½ years, I have implemented changes at our hospital that include introducing gender-neutral bathrooms; diversity and inclusion education for staff; support groups; and other initiatives. We also use sexual orientation and gender identity data capture to better understand trends and demands.
As a result, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center recently was recognized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as an LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader. The Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index is used by LGBTQ+ patients and their families to find facilities that provide equitable and inclusive care.
While I am extremely proud that Bergen New Bridge is 1 of 408 healthcare facilities in the U.S. to achieve this designation for 2019, it’s imperative that the healthcare industry do more to increase these numbers. A true commitment to diversity and inclusion is healthcare’s defining component.
At Bergen New Bridge, we recognize that LGBTQ+ individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. For us, obtaining the Healthcare Equality Leader designation demonstrates we are putting words into actions.
For those who seek to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all, I offer some takeaways:
Educate your staff: Your staff must be appropriately educated and trained. This starts from the top executives and flows down. As a result of increased diversity and cultural competency, you will realize many benefits directly linked to increased positive employee, patient and financial outcomes. Since implementing our diversity and inclusion efforts, our patient experience scores have improved and our employee turnover rate dropped by nearly 8%.
Seek different voices: Ensure diversity is represented in all areas of clinical, support and managerial staff, as well as hospital and foundation boards. You will enjoy a more realistic view when you invite individuals of a different gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation to be part of the conversation.
Go beyond your four walls: Increase patient and staff satisfaction and engagement and the overall healthcare experience by engaging your target audience. Host events and support groups. Conduct focus groups. Invite community members to share what they need from your hospital in order to feel comfortable.
Listen more: Listen, understand and implement solutions that meet the needs and recommendations of vulnerable and stigmatized populations. It is only when we make this effort that the healthcare industry can fully achieve the Triple Aim.
Don’t confuse diversity with inclusion: Diversity without inclusion won’t produce the best outcomes. Inclusion is the ability to create an environment in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued. Only then can we build the safe space that hospitals and clinics are supposed to provide. Creating environments that are welcoming, compassionate, empathetic and provide equal access to life-changing or lifesaving healthcare is the absolute next essential step in the healthcare evolution.