Tobacco Policy

Missouri Coalition Pushes State to National Leadership on LGBT Health


Missouri might not top many LGBT people’s lists of great places to live, but after today you might want to rethink the charms of the Show Me State. For the last year a local coalition has been pushing adoption of LGBT-welcoming policies at hospitals. In this week’s release of HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index, Missouri zoomed from 37th in the country to sixth in the number of local LGBT leader hospitals.

We don’t see policy changes this quickly very often, especially when they require many companies to adopt new policies. What’s the secret to this unlikely success? A few years ago Missouri Foundation for Health funded a partnership with the local Equality Federation partner, PROMO, and SAGE Metro St. Louis. My project, LGBT HealthLink, was also brought on board to provide them with technical assistance. With funding and staff and policy expertise all in place, the Missouri team got down to business to see what they could change to affect LGBT health disparities in their state.

If you just look at the situation today, you’d think they immediately stumbled on the equivalent of oil and a match for policy change, but, like many good projects, they started slowly. First they mapped the policy environment; then they tried a few different strategies for change. One of the things they identified was a big gap: While most hospitals were required to have LGBT-nondiscrimination policies by the agency that accredits them, they could find little evidence of those policies by searching. And if we can’t find them, then patients couldn’t either.

For a while the PROMO staff played nice with the hospitals, trying to build relations and seeing how to move the changes gradually. Some hospitals did respond, but the work was crawling forward. Eventually, we switched to a different tactic, blanketing many hospitals with letters pointing out that these policies were required. Then, of course, the PROMO staff person, Andrew Shaughnessey, was there following up with multiple phone calls offering to help them with policy resources. The new strategy, which we’ve taken to calling the “terrier approach,” worked. Eventually even the hospitals that said they weren’t interested started to call Andrew back. And if they needed LGBT-cultural-competency training as part of the new policy changes, Sherrill Wayland from SAGE was ready to step in to set up in-person trainings at a moment’s notice.

The upshot of all of this work was that, while in 2013 seven hospitals had LGBT-nondiscrimination policies in place, now 31 do. While seven hospitals protected LGBT status in employment, now 30 do. While two had achieved Healthcare Equality Index leader status in 2013, now 19 have. Today several of those hospitals are putting out their own press releases lauding their LGBT-welcoming policies. It’s a far cry from 2013, and that means much better access to health for thousands of LGBT people in Missouri.

What I want to see now is this amazing level of success replicated. I’ve worked in policy change for a very long time, and trust me, a model to change policies this fast comes extremely rarely. While they had a funder in Missouri giving them the time to experiment with different strategies, any other community center or equality organization in another state can take advantage of that work and just do what worked for them. Nicely, the PROMO team has documented their steps really clearly in the LGBT HealthLink blog. See the first post about it here.

Kudos to everyone in Missouri. From the amazing staff team at PROMO and at SAGE to Missouri Foundation for Health, who cared enough to invest, and the many hospital systems who jumped on board, this is an amazing job by all, and it’ll really affect the health of the LGBT communities in your state.

Now who else wants to do it for their states?

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