Christiana Care ahead of the curve on LGBTQ issues

Timothy Rodden, who runs LGBTQ health initiatives for Christiana Care Health System, got a call two months ago from an older transgender woman looking for a urologist who could help with an enlarged prostate. The woman wasn’t a patient of the health system, but Rodden helped her find a trans-friendly doctor to meet her needs.

“I was able to make phone calls, obtain a referral for this person and even refer them to a doctor in the community — even though that doctor was not employed by Christiana Care — so they could receive the specialized care they needed in an environment where they were going to be welcomed,” Rodden said.

This type of community engagement has helped make Christiana Care one of the top hospitals for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer needs.

For the last six years, the northern Delaware health system’s Wilmington and Christiana hospitals have earned the status of “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality” from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the research and lobby arm of the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the country.

The annual “Healthcare Equality Index” measures hiring practices, community outreach, employee health-care benefits and a range of other factors. The Human Rights Campaign recently celebrated 10 years since it first launched the benchmarking tool. The index looks at four main criteria:

• Foundational elements of LGBTQ patient-centered care.
• LGBTQ patient services and support.
• Employee benefits and policies.
• LGBTQ patient and community engagement.

A group of 302 health-care facilities earned the “leader” status nationally. No other hospital in Delaware earned the designation in 2017.

Indeed, Christiana Care has stayed ahead of both other health systems and state and federal law when it comes to LGBTQ initiatives.

“Before marriage equality for same-gender couples, same-gender couples here at Christiana Care were able to get domestic partner benefits,” Rodden said.

Christiana Care also incorporated transgender protections into its hiring practices before the Markell administration signed the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act in 2013. (Thirty-two states do not have transgender anti-discrimination laws on the books, including neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia.)

More recently, Christiana Care gave employees access to transgender health benefits, including cross-hormone therapy and various medications and treatments based on their needs.

Outside of workplace protections and benefits, Rodden also stressed that outreach and communication are increasingly a part of Christiana Care’s efforts.

The health system recently created “Transgender Care Guidelines and Resources,” listing best practices for treating transgender patients. It also formed an LGBTQ Patient-Family Advisory Group made up of employees and community members to help identify unmet needs.

Drew Fennell, a longtime LGBTQ advocate and former chief of staff for then-Gov. Jack Markell, joined Christiana Care this year as the chief officer of strategic communication and development. In her view, third party standards like the Equality Index provide crucial guidance to institutions that want to be proactive.

“A lot of what we’ve done here is make sure that we’re hitting those benchmarks,” Fennell said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

As for what’s driving these changes within Christiana Care, Fennell could not pinpoint just one factor.

“There isn’t a single driver within the system,” Fennell said. “I think it’s got broad-based support from employees, providers, administration and our clinical folks.”

Fennell said large institutions like Christiana Care should provide a good example to the rest of society. But at the same time, she added, addressing LGBTQ needs is increasingly just a part of running a good business.

“It’s not so different from the ways in which we meet quality and safety and service standards for all of our patients,” she said.

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