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Columbia VAHCS Earns Top Performer Designation in Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Healthcare Equality Index


April 6, 2022

Columbia , SC — The Columbia VA Health Care System (HCS) received an evaluation score of 95 out of 100 and the designation of “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Top Performer” in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 15th anniversary edition of the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI).

The HEI is the nation’s foremost benchmarking survey of health care facilities on policies and practices dedicated to the equitable treatment and inclusion of their LGBTQ+ patients, visitors, and employees. A record 906 health care facilities actively participated in the 2022 HEI survey and 251 of those earned an “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Top Performer” designation. 

“The Columbia [VAHCS] takes pride in providing an inclusive environment and quality health care for LGBTQ+ Veterans. We understand that many LGBTQ+ Veterans have been impacted by stigma, stress, and discrimination which often impacts overall health.  We want LGBTQ+ Veterans to be comfortable talking with their VA health care providers about all areas of their lives so we can offer the best care possible,” said Shantel Edmonds, a licensed clinical psychologist and an LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator (VCC) at the Columbia VAHCS.

“Every person deserves to have access to quality health care, be respected and heard by their doctor, and feel safe in the facility where they are receiving care. But LGBTQ+ people are often subject to discrimination in all spaces, including health care facilities, which leads to members of the community avoiding care and anticipating our voices will not be respected in an incredibly vulnerable environment,” said Tari Hanneman, Director of Health & Aging at The Human Rights Campaign. “The Healthcare Equality Index, at its core, strives to ensure LGBTQ+ people are protected and affirmed by their health care providers and feel safe seeking services. Our HEI active participants are truly pioneering the health care industry by implementing robust, comprehensive LGBTQ+ inclusive policies that hopefully, because of their work, will become standard practice.”

The HEI evaluates and scores health care facilities on detailed criteria falling under four central pillars:

  • Foundational Policies and Training in LGBTQ+ Patient-Centered Care;
  • LGBTQ+ Patient Services and Support;
  • Employee Benefits and Policies; and,
  • Patient and Community Engagement.

In the 2022 report, an impressive 496 facilities earned HRC’s “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader'' designation, receiving the maximum score in each section and earning an overall score of 100. Another 251 facilities earned the “Top Performer” designation with scores between 80 to 95 points and at least partial credit in each section. With 82% of participating facilities scoring 80 points or more, health care facilities are demonstrating concretely that they are going beyond the basics when it comes to adopting policies and practices in LGBTQ+ care.

The remarkable progress reflected in the 2020 HEI includes:

  • 93% of participants met the HEI's training requirements, completing more than 200,000 hours of staff training in LGBTQ+ patient-centered care.
  • 82% of participating facilities earned either the Leader or Top Performer.
  • 99% of HEI participants documented that they include both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in their patient non-discrimination policy.
  • 99% of HEI participants documented that they include both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in their employment nondiscrimination policy.
  • 81% of HEI participants offer transgender-inclusive health care benefits to their employees, up from 75% in 2019, which was the first year that it was required to receive Leader status.

“Gender identity and sexual orientation matter in health care. We have two LGBTQ+ VCCs who provide outreach to LGBTQ+ Veterans to educate them about services available, inform staff of training opportunities, work to enhance services for LGBTQ+ Veterans, and advocate for quality care for LGBTQ+ Veterans,” said Edmonds. “We offer an interdisciplinary Transgender Health Care Consult Team and a LGBTQ+ Work Group that supports the LGBTQ+ VCCs in their work to serve Veterans. To learn more about services available, please visit our website LGBTQ+ Veteran Care | VA Columbia South Carolina Health Care | Veterans Affairs.

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Wyatt Anthony, Public Affairs Specialist

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