Q. I work at an acute hospital that is accredited by The Joint Commission. For heaven's sake, have they become pro-gay?

A. The Joint Commission (TJC) surveys many healthcare organizations, including hospitals. They advocate for quality healthcare for all patients. Have they become pro-gay? Not that I know. TJC has a current focus on the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and Transgender) community as part of addressing cultural competency for all risk groups. Studies have shown that barriers to equitable care may be more pronounced for the LGBT population group than for other racial/ethnic minorities. Some studies have shown a higher prevalence of specific health risks in the LGBT population (e.g., anxiety and depression, substance abuse, sexually transmitted disease, and some types of cancer).

TJC wants healthcare organizations to be inclusive of all diversity. Recommendations include:

  • Using neutral and inclusive language when talking with patients (e.g., “Who is family to you?” rather than “Are you married?”)
  • Having inclusive visitation policies for all diversities
  • Avoiding assumptions about sexual orientations or gender identity and being clear that information about gender identity or sexual orientation comes from the patient only
  • Including the word “partnered” as an option on forms that ask about relationship status (e.g., single, married, divorced, separated, widowed)
  • Providing uni-sex bathrooms (e.g., a male can take his female wheel-chair-bound partner into the uni-sex bathroom or vice versa)
  • Requiring educational programs for physician continuing education that include discussion of cultural competency issues

Recently TJC published a 92-page field guide for “Advancing Competence, and Patient and Family Centered Care for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and transgender Community.” (Incidentally, the latest report I’ve seen indicated that 3.5% of Americans are identified as LGB, while 0.3% are identified as transgender.) This field guide may be a response to instances within healthcare organizations that have been found to be problematic. For example, the lesbian partner of a pregnant female was prevented from participating in the labor and delivery process; a male was not allowed to be at the bedside of his dying gay partner, even though they have lived together for 36 years.

Are TJC recommendations a good thing? They certainly can be for the many individuals who have experienced marginalization and/or discrimination. Other organizations might do well to pay attention to the path TJC is forging. We are, after all, members of the same human species, trying to survive and thrive on this planet.