Serving the LGBTQ+ community | News

The Telluride Regional Medical Center recently received a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that will go toward creating a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ patients.

“A little less than a year ago we received some really concerning feedback from a couple different patients who identify in the LGBTQ+ community. I had some providers reaching out about how we can make this better,” explained Dr. Christine Mahoney, the med center’s primary care medical director. “That feedback felt really valuable to learn people have had a less-than-ideal experience at the med center. We just started to look at what we can do better. That prompted us to look for a grant to help support further education.”

She added that creating an inclusive environment is crucial to breaking down barriers that often prevent LGBTQ+ patients from accessing care. According to Denver Health, which is an LGBTQ Center of Excellence, patients with a medical provider who is not LGBTQ+ friendly are less likely to seek primary care services.

“The fact that so many LGBTQ+ people don’t access health care because they are worried about discrimination is heartbreaking to me,” Mahoney said.

To provide more appropriate and better-informed care, medical center staff have received training from experts at Denver Health and the Mayo Clinic who are well-versed on gender affirming care. The recent presentations covered everything from using the correct terminology, to understanding gender-affirming tools and how to create a more inclusive environment.

“What we’ve done so far in that realm is getting some training. We’re not experts in gender affirming care,” Mahoney said. “ … We know about how often folks are misnamed or mispronouned and how impactful that can be. A lot of our training so far has been gaining awareness around all of that.”

She continued, “We have taken the time to walk through the clinic and notice where the signage could be better, where we could display more diverse images. We are evaluating our materials and visuals and trying to improve those. What are we seeing around the med center that could be more inclusive or what aren’t we seeing that we can change to make things more inclusive?”

The medical center is also working with its electronic health record company to include sexual orientation and gender identity data. The grant is helping defray the cost of integrating questions about sexual orientation and gender identity into the facility’s system and has also helped support the staff’s participation in trainings. Having more inclusive information will help providers deliver more patient-centered care and identify health disparities.

Mahoney acknowledged that some staff members were uncomfortable with the idea of asking patients about their sexual orientation or pronoun preference, which is a common concern among providers. One Journal of the American Medical Association study found that nearly 80 percent of clinicians working in emergency departments thought they would offend patients by asking about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet that same study found sexual gender minority populations were willing to disclose this information and believed it was medically relevant to their care.

“Just having these discussions normalizes these issues. With any effort, when you start talking about it, it becomes part of the language and hopefully part of the culture,” Mahoney said.

The med center also hopes to host a forum about health equity for the LBGTQ+ community in June, which would feature experts from leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations and more resources for patients. Working with other community organizations and resources are part of the med center’s plans moving forward as well, Mahoney said.

“I want the community to know that we’re working on this because I want to continue to get feedback. I also want other community partners to engage,” she explained.

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