Healthcare That Goes Beyond LGBTQ Friendly

Healthcare is often a huge hurdle for LGBTQ people—whether because of financial constraints or fear of being discriminated against.

If you live in the New York City metro area, then you’ve probably seen NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s latest LGBTQ friendly “Bare It All” ad campaign. Though many companies market towards the LGBTQ community throughout Pride month in hopes to gain our business—this latest campaign backs up their promises with action.

Healthcare is often a huge hurdle for LGBTQ people—whether because of financial constraints or fear of being discriminated against—this inaccessibility is a sad reality the majority of us face. Sarah Bender NYC Health + Hospitals’ Director for Gender Equity aims to change this narrative by providing not only LGBTQ friendly care but competent care from start to finish.

NYC Health + Hospitals is the nations’ largest public healthcare system and the Human Rights Campaign has regularly recognized hospitals like Metropolitan as being a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” in their annual Healthcare Equality report. Behind this recognition are people like Bender putting in grassroots work to ensure the community’s needs are met. In speaking with Bender, I learned how NYC Health + Hospitals is working to do even better for LGBTQ patients.

On LGBTQ competency training.

“We’ve always had some level of training for staff on providing LGBTQ affirming care. This new curriculum is our attempt at taking it to the next level. Prompting conversations like ‘what does it mean to interact with LGBTQ patients and colleagues?’ We have two different tracks: one for clinic staff and one for non-clinical staff, like front desk receptionists. It doesn’t matter what your job function is, everyone needs to go through this training.

The provider training covers everything from trans and gender non-conforming competency to hormone therapy information and how to properly handle sex specific screenings on body parts. This is a co-venture with NYC Health + Hospitals and the Fenway Institute, which is the center for population research in LGBTQ health. The idea behind this certificate program is that LGBTQ consumers can narrow down based on location and needs to find affirming providers.”

On LGBTQ people leading the cause.

“I identity as LGBTQ and am based in the diversity and inclusion office. I got my start in doing this work at Metropolitan hospital, which now offers gender affirming surgeries. As I’m leading this new charge, I do a lot trainings myself. Our partners at Fenway also all identify as LGBTQ. We’ve created new training videos with LGBTQ physicians and patients so folks can hear from our patients and their colleagues.

This is something at the forefront of all our discussions: who are putting in front of the room? We always want people who identify within the community, speaking from their experience. We’ve found that to be really helpful to have folks who can stand in front of the training room who can talk about personal stories. It really makes people sit back and think ‘I’m gunna pay attention now.’ To really create change we needed more queer people at the corporate level so the health system made that a priority.”

On grassroots outreach.

“This has been one of the major driving factors behind this. I even avoided healthcare sometimes—it’s something that we all experience. Our approach to make sure the community knows about this program. We do outreach by embedding and communicating with community needs. We have focus groups and are consistently getting feedback. This is especially important on the ground and grassroots level. Our staff is out there talking to people about what we’re doing.”

On accessibility. 

“One of the great things about our health system is that we provide care regardless of ability to pay, insurance or immigration status. We work to get people signed up if they qualify or access to our affordable pay scale. We want to provide affirming care to every patient that walks through our doors.

Trans women of color are under insured. We can do this work and have it impact people who don’t have access to insurance. Even on the insurance front we are doing things to provide specialized services—like including gender affirming surgery on different pay scales.”

Healthcare providersPhoto by Shutterstock

GO Magazine also reached out to one the providers doing this on-the-ground work. Dr. Nadia Duvilaire is the Chief of Service for Family Medicine and the Acting Medical Director of NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan’s LGBT Health Center. She understands how providers have grown over the years in bettering their care for LGBTQ patients—herself included.

A shift in focus.

“There’s been a shift over time with more disclosure and national exposure on these issues. With more patients coming out and making it known that they need services that are more competent, providers are wanting to catch up. More providers are finding the need to be trained and more aware.”

Providers struggle.

“A lot of providers struggle with their comfort level due to lack of training. And unfortunately many of our patients come to us saying they’ve had discriminatory experiences. We know that it starts with training residents and students at an earlier start. We don’t just inform but have the residents go through this training so that we can make it seamless.”

If you have faced discrimination from a medical provider, you can make a report with LGBT Health Care Services at lgbtq@nychhc.org. To find an LGBTQ affirming provider, use this handy map