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Health news and issues in the Ozarks.

Southwest Missouri Hospitals Adding LGBT Protections For Employees

Across Missouri healthcare policy is changing to include nondiscrimination protections to the LGBT community. That’s according to a 2014 Healthcare Equality Index report, which ranked Missouri 6th in the nation for hospitals qualifying as “Leaders in LGBT Health,” one year after coming in 36th place. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has more on the changes in southwest Missouri.

Last April, Springfield-based CoxHealth amended its non-discrimination policies to add certain protections for LGBT patients and employees.  The definition of “eligible spouse” now includes same-sex couples, giving them equal consideration for employee health and retirement benefits.  The update affects CoxHealth’s five hospitals and over 80 clinics in southwest Missouri.  As of October, legally married same sex couples became eligible to enroll for spousal benefits.

In a statement written to KSMU, Michelle Leroux, media relations with CoxHealth says:

“CoxHealth supports and promotes a patient and family centered approach to care.  Our non-discrimination policies for patients, visitors and employees provide a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment that contributes to improved quality of care for everyone.”

Mercy has updated non-discrimination employee protections to include gender identity, which will be implemented this spring.  The new policies would also extend benefits to legally married spouses. Sonya Kullman, media relations at Mercy Springfield, stated:

“Mercy offers a comprehensive and competitive benefits package consistent with the markets we serve and the associated legal requirements. As a Catholic health ministry, Mercy has followed the Church's position on this issue in the past. However, in line with recent changes in government regulations, we will extend benefits to all legally married spouses effective this spring.”

PROMO is Missouri’s statewide advocacy organization for the equal treatment under the law of the LGBT community. Andrew Shaughnessy, manager for public policy with PROMO, says the changes began with a review of Missouri’s urban and rural hospitals. The review looked at LGBT friendly non-discrimination policies for patients and employees, if patient visitation was extended to LGBT couples, and if appropriate LGBT trainings were provided to employees.  

“From that we decided to pick our top 20 facilities in Missouri. We led a review through some strategic outreach letters and reports we sent to hospitals.  That led to a spark to update their policies to include the LGBT community,” Shaughnessy says.

Businesses are what’s driving the move forward, says Shaughnessy, and he hopes the continued growth and support of small business and large corporations will help to motivate change in policy.

“It’s really policy that is lagging behind—it’s the legislature that is lagging.  And so we know that up to 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies already include sexual orientation in their employee non-discrimination protection, and a little less than that for gender identity,” says Shaughnessy.

Mercy and CoxHealth are the two largest employers in the Springfield-metro, with just under 17,000 employees combined. Within the past two years, Springfield Public Schools and Missouri State University, both top five employers in the area, also amended its policies to include protections for LGBT employees. 

Meanwhile, Springfield City Council’s recent decision to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination ordinance in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations faces possible repeal.  The measure will be on the April 7th municipal ballot.

Theresa received her undergraduate degree in sociology at Missouri State University, as well as her Master's degree in Social Work at MSU. Theresa enjoys writing, drawing, reading, music, working with animals, and most of all spending time with her family. She wishes to continue to use her experiences, combined with her pursuit of education, to foster a sense of empowerment and social awareness in the community. Theresa loves working with KSMU and attributes her passion for NPR, and love of learning, to her father.
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