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Kaiser Permanente scores perfect rating in national LGBT health-care equality survey

SAN DIEGO – Kaiser Permanente is rated as the top performer in an LGBT health-care equality analysis released today by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

Kaiser, which operates Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in the Grantville neighborhood of San Diego, is leading the nation in policies supportive of LGBT patients and employees. Kaiser scored a perfect rating of 100 percent in the HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) 2010.

The index focused on key policies and practices that ensure culturally competent health care for LGBT patients and families. These policies address patient non-discrimination, visitation rights, decision-making practices and employee benefits and non-discrimination.

"Kaiser Permanente is deeply committed to providing equitable, compassionate and high-quality care to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients and their families, a level of care that is standard across our diverse patient population," said George Halvorson, chairman and chief executive officer of Kaiser Permanente. "In the Healthcare Equality Index report, we are proud to be able to highlight our commitment to these high standards of care, as well as our efforts to promote a supportive work environment for all our employees."

San Diego’s other major hospitals fared less favorably in the equality index.

The University of California San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest – in the heart of San Diego’s gay community – scored high in training and employment policies affecting LGBT people. But under LGBT patient rights and visitation policies, UCSD Medical Center scored favorably only in regard to its sexual orientation policy for patient rights. It failed to recognize gender identity under the patient rights policy and failed at both partner and parental visitation policies.

Kaiser and UCSD voluntarily participated in the HRC project.

Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest and Sharp HealthCare, which operates various hospitals in San Diego County, did not provide voluntary data, according to the HRC.

But Don Stanziano, spokesman for Scripps Health, was dismayed by the news.

“I filled out the extensive form last year, and we had a pretty good rating,” he said. “I didn’t respond this year because we had not changed any of our policies. I thought we were good with HRC.”

Stanziano became very emotional in describing how Scripps Health is “100 percent open to the LGBT community with regards to equal treatment,” he said. “We are absolutely totally supportive of the LGBT community. We are, after all, in the middle of the gay community in Hillcrest.”

He pointed out that Scripps was a major sponsor of San Diego Pride events in 2008 and 2009.

“We value and respect the rights of every individual we treat, and that includes LGBT patients and their families,” Stanziano said. “In both policy and practice, we are inclusive and respectful of the needs of LGBT patients and families, and our employees.”

UCSD Medical Center did not respond to a request to comment on the equality index.

Changing for the better

“The health-care landscape for LGBT Americans is about to change dramatically,” said Dr. David Shamblaw, a family practice provider on staff at Scripps Mercy Hospital.

“We all know horror stories of loved ones torn apart, already heart-wrenching decisions made even harder, and basic human rights denied,” he said.

“Bold action by the president and the Joint Commission mean many of those stories will be a thing of the past – and not a moment too soon, because as of right now huge challenges remain on the books.”

In April, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum directing the Health and Human Services (HHS) to make rules that require all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding – nearly every hospital in the U.S. – to protect the visitation and health-care decision-making rights of LGBT people.

Additionally, the Joint Commission – which accredits and certifies health-care facilities nationwide – recently established new standards for accreditation that include several LGBT-specific criteria, including fully inclusive patient non-discrimination standards.

The two landmark actions are going to cause a “massive sea change and a step forward for non-discrimination,” said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing for HRC. Sainz, the former spokesman for San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and who is quite familiar with San Diego’s health-care institutions, spoke to the media ahead of the release of the index.

Since the 2009 index was released, Sainz noted that Kaiser updated its visitation policies to ensure equal access for LGBT patients and their families. He said that while other San Diego hospitals had room for improvement, he expected that to happen quickly because of Obama’s memo and the Joint Commission’s updated standards.

“This means that LGBT health-care equality is going to improve nationwide, in towns big and small, from New York to Mississippi to Utah to San Francisco,” Sainz said.

Why setting policy is so important

“Health care that is free of prejudice is a fundamental human value and a fundamental value San Diego residents share,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the HRC Foundation. “We thank all health-care facilities that voluntarily participated in this year’s HEI for showing an implicit commitment to the rights of LGBT patients and their families.

“While many LGBT people may indeed have positive experiences in these hospitals, we believe that the standard for equality must be policies that are put in writing and carried out in practice. We urge all health-care facilities to move toward greater inclusiveness, because sooner rather than later, that’s where America is headed.”

How to protect yourself

While these major changes are coming to health care, it is crucial for LGBT people to ensure that they are prepared before tragedy strikes, particularly in preparing legal documents such as advance directives (health-care proxies and living wills) and visitation authorization forms.

Discuss these vital decisions with your primary care physician, file forms with local hospitals and carry the information with you.

For more information about this, visit www.hrc.org/HEI.

How the Health-care Equality Index was compiled

The HEI 2010 was completed between October and December of last year, before Obama’s memo and the Joint Commission’s revised standards were announced.

Organizers independently reviewed a representative sample of 200 of the largest hospitals in the U.S., as well as data from 178 other facilities that voluntarily provided information on four main equality issues.

Of the 178 facilities, only 11 individual facilities and one network (Kaiser) with 36 hospitals received perfect scores.

A bittersweet dedication

The 2010 equality index is dedicated to the memory of Lisa Pond and the advocacy of her partner Janice Langbehn. In 2007, Pond was rushed to a hospital emergency room in Miami with a brain aneurysm. Langbehn contends that she and their children were kept from Pond as her life slipped away – and issue that the hospital disputes.

Because of the tireless work by Langebehn and other advocates of LGBT health-care reform, that hospital this year updated its policies to protect the rights of LGBT patients and their families.

For more information

To read the full HEI 2010 report and other supportive material, click HERE.