The LGBTQ+ community has struggled for years to obtain equal rights in healthcare, more specifically within the transgender community. KSBY’s Neil Hebert took an in-depth look at some of the issues that discourage transgender people from seeking healthcare and how some Central Coast facilities are changing their everyday process to better align with everyone that needs care.
In 1999, Douglas Heumann went through gender-affirming surgery.
“My parents told me if I did anything like that, I would no longer be a part of the family,” said Heumann.” I’m a happier person; sober, contributing member to society, taxpayer, engineer, attorney. I’ve done a lot of things, and I’m proud of myself.”
Heumann, President of GALA Pride and Diversity Center in San Luis Obispo and a governing board member for Tenet Health Central Coast, has become aware of complaints from some in the transgender community while receiving treatment from healthcare facilities on the Central Coast.
“The care and treatment should feel no different when you come to the organizations than anyone else,” said Arthur Dominguez Jr., Chief Nursing Officer for Sierra Vista Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.
But that’s been far from the case for years across the nation. Along with his chief nursing officer role, Dominguez Jr. is Tenet Health Central Coast’s Transgender Patient Navigator.
“If we have a patient coming in, whether it’s for a gender-affirming surgery, I will connect with them. I will say, ‘I’m Art Dominguez. I’m the Chief Nursing Officer at Sierra Vista. My affirming pronouns are he/him/his. I’m a cisgender, gay male.’ And then we start the conversation,” said Dominguez.
Microaggressions, like the improper usage of the pronouns he/him/his and she/her/hers, play a role in everyday life. In a healthcare setting especially, those simple words can be off-putting to those in the LGBTQ+ community, and some may subsequently avoid getting the care they need.
“We trained some of the front-line staff because they’re the first people you see, and if they don’t treat someone right, they’re going to leave and have a bad taste in their mouth,” said Heumann.
Over the past few years, Tenet Health Central Coast has continually made changes in policies and medical forms to be more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. Twin Cities and Sierra Vista received a score of 100 in the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI). The Human Rights Campaign defines HEI as the national LGBTQ benchmarking tool that evaluates policies and practices of healthcare facilities related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ patients, visitors, and employees.
“Commonly in healthcare, what do we do? We holler out into the waiting room, ‘Mr. Jones! or Mrs. Smith!’ That’s no longer acceptable when we’re delivering care to a diverse audience and to a diverse group of patients and their families,” said Mark Lisa, CEO of Tenet Health Central Coast.
Not everyone may agree with this kind of progressive change, but Lisa says it’s a must.
“To be a real American, you gotta look in the mirror, you have to have courage, and you have to advocate for change, even if it’s the change that nobody else thinks you ought to do, but you know it’s the right thing to do,” said Lisa.
“I was born this way. I sure didn’t want this, but it’s real. It’s who I am. I’m just who I am,” said Heumann.