Biweekly Briefing Articles

Turning the Spotlight on Equity in the Health Care System

This June, as we celebrate Pride Month, it’s a good reminder for everyone about the role that hospitals and health systems play in building inclusive and equitable communities for our LGBTQ+ neighbors.

According to the U.S. Office of Disease Promotion and Health Prevention, LGBTQ+ individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Unfortunately, this stigma and fear of discrimination can deter many from seeking medical care. Consider some of these statistics:

  • According to a 2020 national survey by the Center for American Progress, 15% of LGBTQ+ Americans reported postponing or avoiding medical treatment due to discrimination, including nearly three in 10 transgender individuals.
  • The National Center for Transgender Equality found that 33% of respondents had experienced a negative interaction with a health care provider because of their gender identity in the year prior.

Know that your hospitals are already doing their part to provide inclusive care to all members of the community and understand the importance of eliminating these disparities and enhancing efforts to improve LGBTQ+ health. To assist in these efforts, on June 24, Healthy San Diego will host a workshop called Healthcare Barriers for Gender – Diverse Populations. This online training is designed to give health care professionals a better understanding of the legal background of the LGBTQ+ community and the barriers they face in accessing health care. Objectives include:

  • Understanding LGBTQ+ rights and protections for accessing and receiving health care
  • Understanding the LGBTQ+ community’s barriers to accessing adequate and competent health care
  • Stating how barriers to health care result in subsequent health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community

And the California Department of Health Care Services has also prepared materials on Gender Affirming Care: Cultural Competence, which is a foundational pillar for reducing health disparities through culturally sensitive and unbiased quality care. Among the resources, which local advocates assisted in putting together, are:

  • A video with a panel of doctors describing their experiences in engaging with the LGBTQ+ population
  • Effective communication strategies and lessons learned
  • Resources for engaging with families
  • Resources for racial and ethnic minority groups within the LQBTQ+ community

In addition, earlier this month the American Hospital Association (AHA) spotlighted resources to support the LQBTQ+ community and advance health equity. Through its Institute for Diversity and Health Equity, the AHA has shared resources that focus on practical, how-to solutions to help hospitals and health systems of all sizes build more inclusive and equitable communities.

Another health equity concern also at the forefront is people experiencing homelessness. Last month, the San Diego County Regional Task Force on Homelessness released the results of February’s Point in Time Count. The count, the first one conducted since January 2020, found no fewer than 8,427 individuals experiencing homelessness across San Diego County, a 10% increase from 2020. However, it’s important to note that this is just the minimum — it is impossible to find every person during the count. This sharp increase highlights the need for more resources, and as this issue evolves, it will take a community-wide effort to ensure equitable care.  

Experiencing homelessness can often affect the ability of people to improve and successfully manage health conditions. As you know well, these conditions often are not detected or addressed until they become emergencies. The importance of delivering care with dignity, trust, and compassion cannot be understated and is vital to ensuring positive health care interactions that are equitable.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has left so much devastation in its wake, it also brought to the forefront longstanding systemic inequities in the health care system that can no longer be ignored, making culturally competent approaches to care more necessary than ever. Hospitals must work to apply an equity lens to all aspects of quality and safety practices as they continue to help improve health outcomes for historically marginalized populations.