BHS continues to enhance services for the LGBTQ+ community
Determined to further tear down any real or perceived barriers to fully inclusive, equitable healthcare to thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning and other members of the community in the Berkshires, Berkshire Health Systems (BHS) the county's leading healthcare system is continuing to explore new ways to better serve the unique needs of patients who identify as LGBTQ+.
In fact, Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview Hospital, the two hospitals under the BHS umbrella, already have received national recognition for their efforts. They are among only 251 healthcare providers across the U.S. that this year earned "top performer" designation from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's 2022 Healthcare Equality Index, the nation's foremost benchmarking survey of healthcare facilities on policies and practices dedicated to the equitable treatment and inclusion of their LGBTQ+ patients, visitors and employees.
"There has been this ongoing stigma for decades, especially since the 80s, where so many assumptions are made about you as a person, putting you into a category where you just don't belong," said John Dowling, a physician assistant in BMC's endocrinology department who co-chairs the LGBTQ+ Health Collaborative, a consortium of BHS and other providers in the region. Dowling, who self-identifies as gay, explained, "When I was in school, we were just put into the category of people who might get HIV sometime."
What that did, he said, was scare millions of LGBTQ+ patients away from seeking care they desperately needed.
Services and programs throughout the BHS network are working to continue improving the LGBTQ+ experience. A particular focus has been made on the areas of primary care, endocrinology, obstetrics and gynecology, urology, plastic surgery, psychiatry, substance use disorder, gastroenterology, infectious disease, radiology, laboratory and the hospital's specialty pharmacy.
In Dowling's own area of expertise, endocrinology, he and his colleagues continue to ramp up services for one of the most challenged and misunderstood sub-communities within LGBTQ+ – transgender patients. The department is highly versed in gender medicine and specializes in hormone therapy, a vital resource for patients who once had to travel out of the area for such treatments.
BHS is also planning to offer internal education that will include information emphasizing the importance of not making assumptions about a patient or anyone else simply because of their self- expressed sexual orientation or gender identity. Staff can learn about gender-diverse populations, the different types of pronouns they use to identify themselves and the unique medical needs each patient presents.
By enhancing training for providers and augmenting services specifically for LGBTQ+ patients, BHS seeks to become a model for how health organizations everywhere can close the access gap for a community of people that historically has been marginalized and underserved.
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