Woodland Pond has won the official designation of LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader. “We’re the only [continuing care retirement community] in the country to achieve this, as far as we know,” says Philip Mehl, LMSW, LNHA, director of Long-Term Care for Woodland Pond at New Paltz.
This national accreditation is conferred by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the US (you’ve surely seen its logo: a gold “equals” sign on a blue background). Eleven years ago, in response to a study indicating that more than half of LGBTQ Americans had experienced discrimination from medical providers, HRC began conducting an annual national survey and publishing its results as the Healthcare Equality Index, which foundation president Chad Griffin calls “the roadmap to closing the gap in ensuring equal care to LGBTQ patients and their families.”
Last year, HRC initiated a rigorous application process for the status of LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader, and this year Woodland Pond passed the test, which Mehl characterizes as “by design, comprehensive and intensive. You have to demonstrate each step. They want to make it challenging.” There are four main criteria that must be met: Non-Discrimination and Staff Training; Patient Services and Support; Employee Benefits and Policies; and Patient and Community Engagement. “It’s very prescriptive. You have to change the language in your policies on things like human resources, visitation and residents’ rights, to make it explicit that the facility does not discriminate” with regard to gender identity as well as sexual orientation, Mehl elaborates.
The goal, he says, is to ensure that LGBTQ patients, visitors and staff feel that they are in a “safe place” from their first moment of contact with the facility, whether that climate of inclusivity is first established by the terminology in admission papers or signage in a lobby or on gender-neutral bathrooms. “You don’t lose your rights when you come into a nursing home.” Staff members also must be trained to administer care in a sensitive and appropriate manner, especially when dealing with transgender patients. “The team approach is so important,” says Mehl, adding that Woodland Pond’s staff includes several department heads who have come out as LGBTQ.
Of the facilities applying to HRC for this accreditation, those that score from 80 to 95 points on the exam can earn a “Top Performer” designation. But, notes Mehl, “You have to get 100” to earn the title of Healthcare Equality Leader. “There are many hospitals with this branding, but not many nursing homes.”
The term “branding” may seem to imply that this is a marketing move, and the administrator admits that such a reputation — particularly in a community like New Paltz, with its history as a pioneer in the legalization of same-sex marriages — won’t be bad for business. “We would love to become the go-to place [for LGBTQ clients]. But this facility is defined by the residents and staff we have, rather than a rigid set of rules. There are certainly not enough facilities that are opening themselves specifically to all people.”
Ultimately, he says, it’s about doing the right thing, about taking pride in being able to identify as an inclusive healthcare facility: “We want all people to feel that this is a place for them.”