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Intermountain Healthcare: Fighting for greater health and inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community

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Matt Bryan, MD, is proud of the recognition that Intermountain Healthcare just received from the Human Rights Campaign as a national equity leader for the health system’s dedication and commitment to LGBTQ+ health and inclusion.

The national honor from the HRC, earned by five Intermountain hospitals, reflects Intermountain’s commitment to equity, inclusion, and to ensuring that all in the community feel welcome and safe when receiving care.

For Dr. Bryan, who serves as Intermountain’s associate medical director for LGBTQ+ Health, the recognition is nice. But far more important to him is knowing that he and his colleagues’ efforts to ensure equitable care is available to everyone in the community, including LGBTQ+ patients.

He is already seeing it make a difference in many individual lives.

“LGBTQ+ people are an important part of our community. They’re part of our families, our workplaces, our communities, and our lives,” said Dr. Bryan, who had worked at Intermountain for four years in internal medicine before adding the role of associate medical director for LGBTQ+ Health in August of 2019.

“Ignoring any important part of our community doesn’t help anybody. It hurts everybody,” he added. “So, this is an effort we’re taking as the entire Intermountain system to ensure that everyone in the community receives the very best healthcare possible.”

Dr. Bryan’s clinic is still focused on general internal medicine but with a specialization for LGBTQ+ patients. His guidance is helping at other clinics and hospitals throughout the system.

The five Intermountain hospitals earning HRC national designation this year each received the highest score of 100. They include:

• Intermountain Medical Center in Murray

• Alta View Hospital in Sandy

• Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City

• Riverton Hospital

• LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City

The HRC uses a scoring system called the Healthcare Equality Index which looks at four categories including patient-centered care, patient services, and support, employee benefits, and policy, along with patient and community engagement. 

Dr. Bryan said Intermountain recognizing a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is an important part of their overall health picture. Intermountain knows those in the LGBTQ+ community face some health issues at a higher rate but may be less likely to seek care.

Some examples cited by Dr. Bryan:

• Lesbian and bi-sexual women are less likely to get screening services for cancer, and gay and bisexual men are at higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

• LGBTQ+ people are two times more likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12, and transgender individuals have higher rates of victimization, mental illness, and suicidality.

Younger and older members of the LGBTQ+ community are particularly at risk. LGBTQ+ youth are two to three times more likely to die by suicide, he said.

“Younger LGBTQ+ patients are more likely to be homeless, and nearly 60% of LGBTQ+ homeless youth have been sexually victimized. Older members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to suffer from isolation and lack of social services and family support than heterosexual seniors,” added Dr. Bryan.

“Just recognizing these disparities can help make care more equitable because it recognizes that these patients’ healthcare needs are different, and that they may face more barriers to accessing insurance and healthcare,” said Dr. Bryan.

Also important is knowing how to make patients feel more comfortable in disclosing their gender identity and sexual orientation because these factors are often “invisible disparities,” noted Dr. Bryan.

For this reason, Intermountain now provides a space at the top of patients’ medical charts for patients’ preferred name and correct pronouns. It’s also why education about LGBTQ+ patient needs aren’t just designed for clinical staff, but all employees at Intermountain, including call center and front-desk staff. 

“We need people – everyone – to feel comfortable walking through our doors. We can’t have someone mis-gendering patients or using the wrong pronouns when they call or check in for an appointment,” said Dr. Bryan. “They may walk out or hang up and never come back. This is vital. This is a process that we’re continually working to improve on.”

The HRC recognition highlighted Intermountain’s community-focused efforts, such as being a sponsor of the Salt Lake City Pride Parade, and teaming with the Utah Pride Center to create a “Take Pride in your Health” campaign directed at the LGBTQ+ community that focuses on their mental and physical well-being.

“The campaign helps ensure that the Utah LGBTQ+ community knows Intermountain is a welcome resource and safe healthcare environment,” said Kevan Mabbutt, executive sponsor of LGBTQ+ caregiver resource group at Intermountain.

“We are proud of our leadership teams, Office of Diversity, LGBTQ+ Caregiver Resource Group, and caregivers who have demonstrated our commitment to more just and equitable healthcare,” said Mabbutt. “This recognition does not signal a victory but is a call to action to truly embody what it means to be a leader in LGBTQ+ healthcare – and we are certainly up to the task.”

The HRC recognition also cites Intermountain’s staff training, non-discrimination policies, and equitable employee benefits and policies, including insurance coverage for gender transition, and treating spouses the same in all sense no matter the gender of the people in the marriage.

HRC President Alphonso David said providing inclusive care for everyone in the community has been vital, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The health care facilities participating in the HRC Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) are not only on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also making it clear from their participation in the HEI that they stand on the side of fairness and are committed to providing inclusive care to their LGBTQ patients,” David said.

This is the first time Intermountain applied for the HRC consideration. Jan Stucki, from the Intermountain Healthcare Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said that Intermountain will apply for HRC recognition at all of its 24 hospitals next year.

“We want people to live their healthiest lives, no matter their gender identity, sexual orientation or, in the case of our transgender patients, where they are on their transition journey if they are making one,” she said. “We have worked hard not just to create equity in care for these patients, but to also ensure that our staff are trained in how to talk to and work with our LGBTQ+ community so they feel welcome.”

For more information on the HRC rankings click here.

This story contains sponsored content.

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