Hopefully you remember the case of Roger Gorley and his partner Allen Mansell from about a month ago. Gorley was visiting his partner Mansell who was in Research Medical Center when he and Mansell’s brother got into an argument. According to Gorley, hospital staff asked him to leave and he refused. The situation escalated until Gorley was forcibly removed from his partner’s bedside by hospital security staff. The story made national news and went viral in social media as an example of discrimination against same sex couples. (The editorial in this month’s issue of The Advocate mentions this story.)
When this case went national, I had friends across the country asking me about it since it happened in Kansas City. I was shocked, because this happened at Research Medical Center, the hospital closest to our church. I wrote a letter to RMC expressing my concern about this situation and asking for a response. I was pleasantly surprised to get a personal phone call from RMC CEO Kevin Hicks. We had a good conversation and he tasked a vice president at the hospital to arrange a meeting.
Not surprisingly, the hospitaldisputes the accusation of discrimination and believes it followed proper procedure for when there is a disruption in a patient room. Furthermore, because of HIPAA and the possibility of pending litigation, there is only so much the hospital can or will say on the matter. Because of these limitations, I realized that arguing over what happened in the case of Mr. Gorley and Mr. Mansell would accomplish little—it comes down to a “he said/they said” situation. Therefore, I let the folks from RMC know that my interest was in finding out what the hospital was willing to do to regain the trust of the LGBT community in light of this incident.
I am grateful to Paul Osgood and Larry Chester for going with me to meet with the folks from RMC this week. Several other church members desired to go but had conflicts. We met with Kevin Hicks, the RMC CEO, a vice president and the director of the hospital’s council on diversity. The meeting was cordial and we walked away from it feeling that Mr. Hicks and his folks really listened to what we had to say.
The first thing we communicated with them about was that the hospital has a real problem with the LGBT community’s perception of it. I believe that the RMC folks really did not understand that any LGBT person who was aware of the story would decide not to go to RMC. Furthermore, I think their eyes were opened when Paul and Larry described how they and their partners had experienced discrimination elsewhere in the past. Their history of experiencing discrimination led them to immediately believe the media accounts of the event and to think the worst of the hospital. By the end of the meeting, I think the RMC folks realized that if they truly are a hospital that does not discriminate, then they will have to prove it to LGBT people.
Secondly, we presented them with something called the Healthcare Equality Index which is operated by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The HEI is a certification process that focuses on 4 areas of a hospital: 1. non-discrimination policies towards LGBT patients, 2. non-discrimination policies towards LGBT employees, 3. visitation policies for LGBT patients and their partners, and 4. sensitivity training towards care of LGBT people. Out of the 400+ hospitals in the country which have been certified by the HEI, only one of them is in Missouri and it is in St. Louis. We offered the possibility that Research Medical Center can go from being incredibly negative in the eyes of LGBT people to having the stamp of approval of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s most visible organization promoting LGBT rights. We also offered our willingness—if they went through such a certification—to help them to reach out to the LGBT-welcoming faith community and to LGBT organizations our church members participate in.
The response we received was positive but non-committal at this time. Mr. Hicks the CEO assured me that they would look over the information about the Healthcare Equality Index and would get back to us about their decision. He also seemed to genuinely get, if he had not before, the reality that the hospital must actively reach out to the LGBT community. It was a good first meeting. We will wait and see if anything else develops.
In my opinion, this is the sort of advocacy a church like ours should be doing. God calls us to work for justice in our community and world. God’s justice includes equal care for all of God’s children and an active response to discrimination. Furthermore, Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. Peace in the biblical sense does not mean the absence of conflict but rather the presence of wholeness (Shalom) for all parties. My prayer is that Research Medical Center (and all medical care providers) can learn of ways it can care for all people with dignity, including LGBT people. If the hospital can demonstrate its willingness to dialogue with and listen to the particular concerns of LGBT people, then my hope is that LGBT people would respond favorably to the hospital’s demonstration of progress. I will continue to pray that such a movement of God’s justice and peace can happen in this situation. I hope you will pray for it too.
Grace and Peace,