Negative experiences when seeing a health care provider are common for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Up to one-third of transgender and gender-nonconforming patients reported having a negative experience in a health care setting, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.
This experience gets compounded by gaps in the health care system, where this population fails to receive appropriate care. Healthypeople.gov found that elderly LGBT individuals face increased isolation, lack of social services and lack of culturally competent providers.
The result? The LGBTQ+ community (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and other sexual identities) is at a greater risk for a number of health disparities. The Trevor Project reports, for example, that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth seriously contemplate suicide at three times the rate of heterosexual youth. Other conditions and diseases this population may be at greater risk for include anxiety and alcohol, tobacco and substance misuse.
The newly launched Affirm: The Rush Center for Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Health aims to bridge those gaps by providing safe, accessible, comprehensive, affirming care to those who identify as LGBTQ+.
“Health care systems are not designed to accommodate or support patients outside of the gender binary or spectrum of sexual orientation. This, combined with little to no medical training on health care disparities faced by the LGBTQ+ community, leads to huge gaps in care," said Ravi Iyengar, MD, Affirm's co-medical director.
“Affirm is changing that. We believe that culturally competent and affirming care should not be confined to one clinic, but permeate the entire health care system," Iyengar said.
Affirming care in action
Through patient navigation and coordination of services, patients receive affirming care provided throughout Rush University System for Health.
“Patients often don't know where to turn when seeking medical care, and the prospect of having a negative experience can be daunting, turning them away from getting help," Iyengar explained. “That's when health suffers. By navigating patients to affirming and competent providers, we are advocating for their health and ultimately closing these gaps in care."
Affirm patients will have access to the following services:
- Adult, adolescent and pediatric primary care
- Behavioral health
- Gender-affirming clinical services
- Specialty care
Education, research and community-based programming also will be provided alongside clinical and administrative services.
Deepening our commitment
Affirm is an evolution of Rush's long-standing commitment to LGBTQ+ health equity.
“From being the first hospital in the state to offer comprehensive transgender benefits to our employees and students alike to having all three hospitals designated as “Leaders in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality" by the Human Rights Campaign, Rush's commitment to the community is unwavering," said Christopher Nolan, system manager for community health and benefit and chair of the LGBTQ Leadership Council. “Affirm is taking our efforts to the next level with direct, patient-focused care that is inclusive and affirming."
Rush has been extremely progressive in its concern and care for the LGBTQ+ community, both internally and throughout the Rush community.
Internally, the Rush LGBTQ Leadership Council was established under the Diversity Leadership Council. The LGBTQ+ Leadership Council addresses LGBTQ+ health equity not only for our patient population through systematic changes in policy and practice, but also for the employee and student populations through the representation of the employee resource group and the Rush PRIDE student group.
The Rush Medical College also recently integrated gender-affirming care into their gender and reproduction curriculum. This type of didactic and clinical experience on LGBTQ+ health education is in the process of being adopted in the nursing and allied health curriculums as well.
In alignment with Rush's commitment to serving Chicago's West Side and addressing social and structural barriers to reduce the 16-year life expectancy gap between the West Side and downtown Chicago, Affirm serves as another way that Rush will engage and serve the vibrant and diverse individuals in our anchor communities.
“We look forward to Affirm becoming part of the fabric of Chicago's West Side, as well as Oak Park, Aurora and the greater Chicago region. At Rush, we truly believe excellence is for everyone," Nolan said.