MUNCIE — Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital wants to make sure that every person who walks through their doors gets equal treatment.
That commitment has landed the hospital at the top of a list, as the first in the state to be designated as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) friendly by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.
The news came in the form of the HRC’s annual Healthcare Equality Index for 2012, which looks at how equitably healthcare facilities in the United States treat their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients and employees.
IU Health BMH was one of 234 nationwide — but the only one in the state — recognized as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality,” meeting all four core policy categories — patient non-discrimination; employment non-discrimination; equal visitation for same-sex partners and parents, and training in LGBT patient-centered care.
“We are proud of the recognition,” said IU Health BMH President and CEO Mike Haley. “It’s the result of a lot of hard work.”
That work began two years ago, after a transgender patient claimed she was mistreated in the hospital’s emergency room.
Transsexual Erin Vaught claimed she was called “it” and “he-she” and eventually denied treatment when she went to the ER on July 18, 2010, for a lung condition that was causing her to cough up blood.
Complaints were filed days later by Indiana Equality and Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance and the incident went viral, with the hospital receiving criticism nationwide, and beyond.
Ball Memorial Hospital released a statement saying the hospital was conducting an internal review.
“We failed to meet their needs,” Haley said. “We acknowledged that openly.”
Then they went a step further.
“It’s one thing to apologize,” he said. “It’s another to say, ‘And furthermore, I want this hospital to be considered as a place anyone would want to go if they needed a hospital.’”
Haley issued a challenge to all physicians, employees and volunteers to meet every HRC key indicator.
Ann McGuire, vice president of human resources for IU Health BMH, led the hospital’s efforts. Members of the LGBT community were asked to help.
Jessica Wilch, board member and past president of Indiana Equality, an LGBT rights group, said she was a “believer in what (IU Health BMH was) trying to do” from the first meeting.
“When this went viral, my concern was that BMH would take the stand that this was an isolated incident and just pacify the process,” Wilch said. “Instead they saw it as a teachable moment.”
New policies were drafted and training was developed.
In addition to hospital leaders, anyone a patient would come in contact with was involved in the training, McGuire said, adding that it was about more than just a tutorial. It was about “eye-opening” conversations.
Wilch agreed, saying that face-to-face conversations with the LGBT community were essential.
“We could talk freely about the things we have encountered and then come up with ways, together, to handle it differently,” she said.
Overall, the HRC reports the number of American hospitals striving to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) patients equally and respectfully is on the rise.
This year’s survey found a 40 percent increase in rated facilities.
Last year, IU Health BMH was short a few policy additions for the leadership HRC designation, but was still recognized for its efforts.
Wilch said she was not surprised the hospital “hit all of the marks” this year.
“They have become, essentially, one of the leading hospitals in the country, because it really started with them,” she said. “They were the ones who reached out to us and said ‘How can we make this better? How can we do the right thing?’”
Haley said he believed the training and policies developed at IU Health BMH will be used “across IU Health.”
IU Health BMH has also set out to look at other ways to expand their “best practices” when it comes to diversity, McGuire said. The hospital has been hosting Palettes of Diversity events, which have celebrated not only the LGBT community, but other cultures.
“We are making sure we are hard-wiring an environment recognizing and supporting diversity for all who come here,” Haley said.
“It’s about relationships and dignity and respect,” she said. “It is uniqueness that each of us brings that makes us stronger as a community.”
And, McGuire would tell you, as a hospital.