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OU Health Sciences Center adjusts to meet Human Rights Campaign criteria for LGBTQ+ patients, employees

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A flag is held up by participants at Norman Pride Parade May 5, 2019.

At the OU Health Sciences Center, faculty, staff and medical personnel have been working to be more inclusive and productive towards their LGBTQ+ patients. 

Russell Rooms, a member of the advanced practice nurse team and the health equality coordinator at OUHSC, said in an interview provided by the center, they have been hard at work to improve their LGBTQ+ healthcare.

“About four years ago, (OUHSC) came across a Facebook post that said Oklahoma is one of the four states in the (U.S.) that does not have a leader in LGBTQ+ health equality for hospitals as determined by the Human Rights Campaign,” Rooms said. “So a group of people ran that up the flagpole to the administration and they were very supportive.”

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States. They were founded in 1980 and pushed for causes such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Rooms said a committee was put together including himself and representatives from public relations, human resources, education and leadership.

“The Human Rights Campaign has a set of criteria that show that we are meeting the needs of the LGBTQ+ community,” Rooms said. “Like do we have gender-neutral restrooms? Do we have the records to identify someone's birth gender and their identifying gender? Do we have the ability to list same-sex parents in our records?”

Rooms said the Human Rights Campaign also looks at how they treat employees.

“Do we have a plan for employees to have gender-transformation during their employment here?” Rooms asked. “Do we have insurance plans to allow our employees to do that?”

According to Cigna, people who identify as LGBTQ+ tend to be at a greater risk of psychological disorders such as mood disorders, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts or actions, as well as physical disorders such as higher rates of HPV infection and HIV/AIDS. People identifying as LGBTQ+ also tend to be less likely to have health insurance or fill prescriptions.

With the ongoing pandemic canceling Pride this year, Rooms said he hopes in the future, members of the OUHSC will be able to march in the parade once again.

“With COVID, Pride has been a very different month this year,” Rooms said in June. “Last year at Pride we had over 200 … staff, faculty, family members or students marching in the Pride Parade.”

One such student paving the way for LGBTQ+ people is Riley Darby-McClure. Darby-McClure is a third-year medical student at the OU College of Medicine working to improve healthcare in the LGBTQ+ community.

Darby-McClure said in a video interview with OUHSC that over the past couple of years, he and others at the College of Medicine have developed a workshop to help medical students better understand patients from the LBGTQ+ community.

Darby-McClure said the trial run for the workshop involved students receiving a teaching session, patient-actor encounters and a group discussion afterward to talk about their experiences.

“Not only were the students able to get practical skills, they were able to hear personal experiences from members of the community about their healthcare experience,” Darby-McClure said.

Darby-McClure also shared what made him realize he could do more by relating to his own personal experience at OUHSC.

“Starting medical school, I realized there was a huge opportunity for growth in this area," Darby-McClure said. “I think that a significant portion of the patients that we see are from the (LGBTQ+) community, as we know that there’s a lot of health disparities there.”

Darby-McClure also said OUHSC should realize what it may be contributing towards that disparity and what it can learn from it.

Faculty in other departments are also doing what they can to provide quality care to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Our clinic is called the Roy G. Biv Clinic, and we treat the entire spectrum of (LGBTQ+) patients,” OUHSC Chief of Adolescent Medicine Amy Middleman said in the interview. “In 2015, we had our first (transgender) patient come to see us, and we felt it was important that we provide the standard care, an excellent and optimal quality of care.”

The name Roy G. Biv is a play on words for the rainbow, a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. It is an acronym which stands for the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Middleman said then, the clinic staff felt unprepared to provide that level of care.

“In early 2016, I took the entire group of providers from our section and we went and got trained in the treatment of (LGBTQ+) — and in particular, (transgender) — youth,” Middleman said. “We developed the Roy G. Biv program, (and) we also developed a network of providers called GapNet, or Gender Affirming Professional Network, where we were able to develop a coalition of all providers in the state who were engaged in this work.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates between 10 and 40 percent of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ+. 

Community outreach is also an important part of the new OUHSC plan Rooms is working on to better care for LGBTQ+ patients.

“I feel like we’ve had a really positive response,” OUHSC assistant professor Shauna Lawlis said in their video interview. “We’ve really tried to get out in the community, participate in Pride events and get out to meet people.”

Lawlis also said emotional and mental conditions are at the forefront of their treatment of LGBTQ+ patients.

“We deal with a variety of issues, and sometimes it's not just one issue that a kid comes in for,” Lawlis said. “For example, they might have an eating disorder, they might have anxiety or depression, (or) sometimes it might be something that hasn’t even shown up on the parent’s or primary care physician’s radar.”

Lawlis said with all the societal progress and change, such as increasing Supreme Court rulings and legislation that support the LGBTQ+ community, the future looks bright.

“I’ve seen amazing strides, especially in Oklahoma,” Lawlis said. “I really feel like the whole community is getting involved, it seems like overall people are really supportive.”

Christian Hans is a journalism junior at OU and news reporter for The Daily.

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