Study: Several D.C. area hospitals do not have nondiscrimination policies for gays

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A study by a prominent gay rights organization found that nearly half of 17 Washington area hospitals do not explicitly include "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" in their patients' bills of rights or nondiscrimination policies.

The report by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation follows President Obama's mandate that nearly all hospitals protect the visitation and decision-making rights of gay men and lesbians.

Eight Washington area hospitals, the report says, do not include such language.

They are Sibley Memorial, Howard University and Providence hospitals in the District; Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and Washington Adventist Hospital in Montgomery County; Reston Hospital Center and Virginia Hospital Center in Northern Virginia; and Doctors Community Hospital in Prince George's County.

But in an interview, a spokesman for Howard said its patients' rights policy does, in fact, include a reference to sexual orientation. Tom Sullivan, a co-author of the HRC report, said he had been unable to find it on the hospital's Web site.

Including the explicit language is important, the group said, to train and educate hospital staff and to codify a hospital's commitment to full inclusiveness "in a very visible way," according to Sullivan.

There is evidence that gay men and lesbians delay seeking care because of a perception of discrimination, Sullivan said. "When [health-care facilities] are inclusive, people seek health care in a timely manner, and to us, that's just good health-care policy," he said.

The HRC asked hospitals to provide that information; of the 17 hospitals, only George Washington University Hospital did so. For the others, the foundation relied on the hospitals' Web sites.

Hospitals often bar visitors who are not related to a patient by blood or marriage.

Gay rights activists say many hospitals also do not recognize same-sex couples' wishes to designate a partner to make medical decisions for them if they are incapacitated or seriously injured.

The report released Monday came at the same time as an announcement by Kaiser Permanente -- one of the nation's largest not-for-profit health providers -- that it has updated its patients' bill of rights to fully protect gay and lesbian patients and their families from discrimination.

Those changes, which took effect in Kaiser Permanente's network of 36 hospitals in California, Oregon and Hawaii on Monday, make it the first large health network to have a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients, according to the HRC. A Kaiser spokeswoman said the organization hopes to implement the policy at its 431 medical office buildings across the country within the year.

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