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Gay-rights groups launch hospital ratings

/ Source: The Associated Press

Just over half of 88 hospitals got top marks under a new rating system created by two national gay-rights organizations which hope the standards will result in more compassionate treatment of gay and lesbian patients.

Policies addressed in the ratings include patient nondiscrimination, visitation and decision-making rights for partners, diversity training for staff, and nondiscriminatory employment practices.

The hospitals participated voluntarily, and the groups behind the report said there will be no effort to rate hospitals which don’t want to respond. Instead, they hope many hospitals will strive for high ratings as the survey recurs annually.

Called the Healthcare Equality Index, the ratings were designed by the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

The index is modeled after the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates corporations on policies for gay and lesbian workers. It has tracked a surge in the number of Fortune 500 companies offering benefits to same-sex partners.

Some responses to the new survey came from hospital networks. Kaiser Permanente, answering on behalf of 31 hospitals in California and Hawaii, said all met the survey’s 10 criteria. They were among 45 hospitals in all with top marks.

University Hospitals of Cleveland, representing 10 Ohio hospitals, said they fully met only two criteria — domestic partner benefits for employees and a patient nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation.

The HRC and the medical association said their goal is to highlight hospitals with high rankings and induce others to abandon inequitable practices.

“Too many times, a gay man has been unable to comfort his partner, a transgender person has been ridiculed instead of treated, or a lesbian mom has been barred from seeing her child at the hospital,” the groups said.

In one example cited by the HRC, attorney Kenneth Johnson described his struggle to verify his relationship with his partner, James Massey, in 2006 when Massey was rushed unconscious to Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Johnson said he had to travel back to his home in Virginia to fetch legal documents before the hospital allowed him to join in medical decision-making for Massey, who had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died the next day. The two men had registered as domestic partners in California and had an adopted son.

The healthcare index includes recommendations for hospitals, starting with the forms filled out by patients. It recommends that “transgender” be an option for gender and that relationship status include the term “partnered” as well as “single,” “married,” “divorced” and “widowed.”

The gay rights groups said the ratings are intended to create a best-practices standard that would counteract the patchwork nature of state laws and hospital policies affecting gays and lesbians.

For example, 20 states prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 12 also ban discrimination based on gender identity; hospitals in other states theoretically can refuse to hire people because they are gay or lesbian.

Ten states extend legal recognition of some sort to same-sex partnerships, and hospitals there already offer those couples equal visitation and decision-making rights. In other states, hospital practices on those matters vary widely.

Among the hospitals completing the survey was Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., where there is no state recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Joel Lee, the hospital’s associate vice chancellor for communications, said the facility nonetheless has a policy respecting same-sex partners’ rights. It honors the wishes of patients who can express themselves and encourages staff to “sort it out in a humane way” in cases where one partner is incapacitated, Lee said.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he was pleased by the response to the survey, even though hundreds of hospitals did not reply to an invitation to participate.

“It’s the beginning of a dialogue,” he said. “We’re not calling out the bad guys — we’re trying to show them the way.”