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Central Health Equity Policy Council Focuses on Improving Health Care

Experience for LGBTQ Patients and Staff in Austin

(Austin) – The Central Health Equity Policy Council, a group of community members working to change policies that improve the health of Travis County, is focusing on improving health care experiences for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) adults.

“Every year the Equity Policy Council votes to tackle an initiative that will advance health equity in our community,” Manager of Community and Population Health Strategy Megan Cermak said. “This year, we will advocate for clinics serving people with low income to evaluate their policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of LGBTQ patients, visitors, and employees.”

A 2017 study by Harvard University found one in six LGBTQ adults report having experienced discrimination in a health care setting, like their doctor’s office. United States Transgender Survey Data revealed one in three transgender people had a negative experience with a health care provider.

“Our members felt strongly we need to make sure this isn’t the experience of LGBTQ residents here in Travis County,” Cermak said.

In 2007, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) launched the Healthcare Equity Index (HEI) to transform health care for LGBTQ patients, staff, and visitors. The index addresses the need for “equitable, knowledgeable, sensitive and welcoming healthcare, free from discrimination.” The index scores health care facilities based on how many LGBTQ-inclusive polices and practices they have in place using four criteria:

  1. Non-discrimination for patients and employees, and staff training.
  2. Patient services and support.
  3. Employee benefits and policies.
  4. Patient and community engagement.

The index offers training, guidance, and recommendations to help facilities improve their policies and practices. While not required by HEI, the Central Health Equity Policy Council plans to include training on better care for Intersex patients as part of this initiative. People’s Community Clinic and Austin Public Health have already obtained the Healthcare Equality Index accreditation, with People’s receiving the Leader award with a perfect score.

“The Equity Policy Council will advocate for all Federally Qualified Health Centers – like Central Health-funded CommUnityCare Health Centers – and hospitals in Travis County to adopt clinical policies that support the Healthcare Equality Index,” Kind Clinic Director of Clinical Operations Brandon Wollerson said. “We want to ensure everyone who works in, walks in, or seeks care in a clinic or hospital in our community is treated equally, with dignity and respect. Everyone deserves this.”

About the Central Health Equity Policy Council
Launched in 2015, the Central Health Equity Policy Council includes members from more than 80 community partners. The council addresses non-clinical factors to improve the health of the community. Members are trained on evidence-based best practices and innovative policies from local, state and national experts. In 2016, the council led efforts to regulate electronic cigarettes in public places including bars, restaurants and offices, resulting in unanimous approval to strengthen Austin’s smoking ordinance by the Austin City Council. The following year the council was successful in encouraging two low-income Central Texas school districts to adopt mandatory recess policies for elementary school children, resulting in 20,000 students getting 20 minutes of unstructured physical activity daily. In 2018, all Federally Qualified Health Centers in Travis County and one hospital emergency department adopted routine HIV “opt-out” screening policies as a result of the council’s efforts.

Selecting a Policy to Improve Health Outcomes
Central Health Equity Policy Council members voted to work on the Health Equity Index Accreditation initiative from three possible policies including City of Austin requirements around capturing and analyzing demographic data and reporting outcomes, and prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products

The council’s research committee reviewed 45 commission and community reports then conducted 30 interviews before ranking the top three potential policy options for the entire council to consider, based on a number of factors including political, financial and legal feasibility, equity factors, impact on health outcomes, and tracking and evaluation.