These are perplexing times we live in. Our society seems to be simultaneously accepting increased divisiveness and intolerance, while at the same time shifting toward greater compassion and embracing what makes us all different. Even as hate speech and fear-mongering has increased, so, too, have civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and understanding the myriad ways in which women and minorities have been too routinely taken advantage of in the workplace and elsewhere.
In 2018, New Hampshire finally added language to its anti-discrimination law protecting transgender individuals. But it came a decade after first being raised, and even then, not without much opposition.
And at the same time the president has been trying to roll back such protections for soldiers and others, polls show more and more Americans have realized all of us deserve to be treated with respect and decency.
Sometimes, even when that’s the goal, things go awry. Imagine arriving for a doctor’s visit or medical procedure and having the staff call you by the wrong name or refer to you as “he” when you’re a “she” or “they.” Worse, imagine your doctor didn’t even ask pertinent health questions because of assumptions made about your life. Or that you were so uncomfortable with your health provider that you didn’t even want to share relevant information.
Such instances are what Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is trying to avoid. The hospital has spent about $25,000 over the past few years trying to improve how it interacts with patients of various sexual orientations or gender identities — what it refers to as the LBGTQ+ population. Though the effort was actually spurred by a compliment from a transgender patient regarding the hospital’s treatment, it acknowledges things can always be improved.
The hospital’s LGBTQ+ Leadership Council asked the Fenway Institute’s National LGBT Health Center to survey Brattleboro Memorial’s policies and procedures and provide education to staff. What the survey showed was that while staff wanted to be welcoming and inclusive, many of them didn’t know what that meant in terms of how they go about their duties.
The effort includes instruction on asking patients the right questions in the right ways to obtain the correct information in a way that doesn’t embarrass or deter them. It includes changes in intake forms to include more nontraditional options and to ask how patients identify themselves. And it includes getting that information into the medical records system so it doesn’t become a routinely uncomfortable process, and so medical staff know what issues the patient might encounter that are specific to their identity.
Though the hospital has spent a fair amount of time and money to improve the experience of its patients, it’s really a simple notion: Taking a step back and treating every patient as an individual, without the usual assumptions we all tend to make upon meeting someone, based on appearance, voice or other cues. And the changes are easy ones to make, something any hospital — or business, for that matter — could and should embrace.
We note that while the region’s other hospitals haven’t gone through the same extensive process, they, too, have inclusiveness in mind. In the explanation of patients’ rights for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock system, of which Cheshire Medical Center in Keene is a part and Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough — as part of Granite One Health — recently agreed to become aligned, the first paragraph deals with the topic thusly:
“You have the Right to:
“Be treated with respect and dignity. This includes being called by the name you choose, and to feel safe while in the hospital.
“Your cultural background, spiritual and personal values, beliefs, and preferences should be respected.
“You and the visitors that you choose will not be discriminated against based on age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, language, physical or mental disability, socioeconomic status, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”
Perhaps someone could find a way to skirt those words and make patients feel uncomfortable about who they are or how they look. But they’d have to really put some effort into it. And why would they?
The bottom line is the bottom line: Health care providers are businesses, whether nonprofit or otherwise. They rely on their customers liking how they’re treated and returning to them, when necessary. There’s no upside to making someone feel bad when you’re providing a service. That’s just common sense.
And common sense is what civil rights are about in any case.