The Healthcare Equality Index is a national benchmarking tool that ranks hospitals based on whether their policies and practices include equal treatment for the LGBT community. Missouri’s standing in this index jumped from 37th in the nation to 6th in just one year.
I spoke with Andrew Shaughnessy, Public Policy Manager of the Missouri LGBT advocacy organization PROMO, about why this ranking is so important and what it means for Missouri.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.
What are some of the problems that are faced by LGBT individuals and their families when receiving healthcare?
“We're slowly seeing more and more of this happening - that lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals experience poorer health outcomes than their heterosexual peers. And that's because of the history of discrimination, stigma and really the lack of legal and public policy support.”
One of PROMO’s main goals is to educate healthcare providers about LGBT health issues. Why is education an important step in ending discrimination?
“The Missouri Foundation for Health in 2012, they cited that medical students and providers only receive five hours of education around LGBT issues. And a lot of the time is focused around HIV/AIDS, which is only a piece of the huge puzzle that makes up the health of the LGBT community. We are progressing and getting the word out there and educating individuals about these health disparities, about the need for LGBT welcoming policies, and we're starting to see movement. In 2013, Missouri was actually ranked 37th on the same HEI record and we zoomed up to 6th in one year. And that was because of the vision of the Missouri Foundation for Health and the collaboration that PROMO has with SAGE Metro St. Louis in educating healthcare and social service providers here in the Missouri region.”
What’s different about Missouri that has allowed us to make these big changes?
“We have a Missouri Foundation for Health that really believes truly in the mission of giving access to all for healthcare. And so having somebody has been a big influence for us in trying to get these welcoming policies to happen in the hospitals. This is actually one of the first programs like this in the nation where a local LGBT statewide organization is really tackling health. So we're excited that here in Missouri we are making waves.”
Of the 19 Missouri hospitals listed as Leaders in LGBT Healthcare on the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index, 9 of them are in the St. Louis area and 5 of them are in and around Kansas City. What’s being done to address Missouri’s rural hospitals?
“That's what the next arm of our outreach is going to be is to rural hospitals. And we're really focusing on what that campaign is going to look like and really trying to build a message around that. I think in the next HEI you'll be pleasantly surprised to see more and more rural hospitals. Because LGBT people are everywhere and we access healthcare in every part of this state so we must include these welcoming policies.”