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Cville Pride Calls on UVA Health to Commit to LGBTQ Patient Healthcare

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Cville Pride, along with the undersigned organizations, call on University of Virginia president James Ryan to maintain and strengthen his commitment to the LGBTQ community as he and his team bring on new leadership at UVA Health.

As an organization that aims to “create a vibrant, visible, and inclusive LGBTQ community presence in Charlottesville, Albemarle, and the surrounding region,” Cville Pride values the emphasis on equity and inclusion President Ryan has brought to the University of Virginia and thus to the area. We applaud the leadership UVA providers have demonstrated by establishing transgender clinics for both youth and adults, as well as the efforts put forth by Bush Bell, Dr. David Repaske, Dr. Susan Kirk, Dr. Corbett and others to implement best practices, participate in the Health Equity Index, and to provide transgender healthcare in their respective specialties. Cville Pride proudly honored Dr. Nancy McClaren with our 2017 Cornerstone Award. And we’re grateful that SafeCville was able to partner with Dr. Catherine Casey to safe-space train a few select departments. So many lives have been positively impacted by these efforts.

This entreaty arises as UVA Health seeks to fill the open positions of vice president of health affairs and CEO of the Medical Center. We understand that the organization faces many challenges at the moment. We know that incoming personnel will have competing priorities demanding their attention and resources. Yet we urge UVA not to neglect LGBTQ patients. While many great strides have been made, we believe that progress in the form of concrete actions must continue, if they are to succeed at all. 

Statistics show that the LGBTQ population experiences disproportionately high rates of chronic disease, stress, substance abuse, and mental health concerns. Lesbian and gay people often avoid seeking preventive care completely. A frightening 40% of transgender individuals attempt suicide. Minority stress resulting from constantly having to navigate a shaky and shifting landscape of legal, social, religious, familial, and cultural norms, bias, and exclusions results in health disparities, as well as homelessness for youth and isolation for the elderly. LGBTQ people often find healthcare environments to be just as threatening and stressful. Medical providers lack accurate knowledge to competently care for their LGB patients. And too many times, providers and staff misgender, mistreat, and even refuse care to transgender people in need.

Despite the presence of inclusive policies, cutting-edge programs, and brave individuals, LGBTQ patients at UVA often report uncomfortable, painful, traumatic interactions with providers and staff. We’ve heard stories describing callous and ill-prepared medical personnel as well as outright refusals of healthcare and blatant disrespect. These experiences not only harm individuals already at risk and vulnerable; they undermine the credibility the institution has sought to build as an inclusive and equitable organization. The ripple effects run counter to UVA Health’s ASPIRE values and core mission, as well as to the efforts Ryan has initiated to harmonize relations between UVA and the surrounding communities.

That LGBTQ patients have some positive experiences at UVA only complicates the situation when negative ones occur. The bait-and-switch effect lessens the positive impacts and actually magnifies the vulnerability a patient feels. The lack of a consistent, overall approach to providing robust services addressing the unique and specific needs of LGBTQ patients only confirms our marginalized status and bolsters systematic oppression, paradoxically creating a feedback loop wherein this half-hearted treatment contributes to the health disparities which the medical community by its very definition seeks to address and heal.

We hope that the people hired will address the disparities of care that exist for the LGBTQ patient population. Several potential avenues for improvement exist. For example, UVA Health could: 

  • Create a patient advocate and navigator role, to help LGBTQ patients access care and allow for their voices to be heard in feedback to the medical center
  • Developing a mandatory, robust training program that provides ongoing support for team members
  • Communicate policies and procedures to employees at all levels regarding the expectations for behavior with LGBTQ patients and colleagues
  • Identify gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the environment
  • Visibly display anti-discrimination policies
  • Outline clear methods of accountability to established standards

The field of LGBTQ healthcare has few exemplars at this moment in history. UVA Health has the opportunity right now to establish itself as a world class leader in LGBTQ healthcare. Doing so will require resources, but we firmly believe that aspiring to and attaining this level of excellence for a community so undervalued and underserved would bolster UVA Health’s reputation in countless ways. More critically, the kind of dedication would save lives. 

Again, we commend Ryan for the commitments he’s vocalized and the programs he’s begun since taking the helm of UVA. We trust he will consider this request within the context of our great admiration for the course that’s been set for both the academic and medical wings.

With regards,

Charlottesville Pride Community Network

Ted Lewis, Side by Side 

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic

PFLAG Blue Ridge

Charley Burton, Black Transmen Inc. Virginia

Circe Strauss, Cville Trans Peer Group

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