In the Community

On Cancer: Creating an Environment of Respect for LGBT Patients

By Christina Pernambuco-Holsten, MA  |  Monday, April 14, 2014

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you shouldn’t have to worry whether you or your loved ones will be treated with respect during your care. At Memorial Sloan Kettering we take the concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community very seriously and have implemented a variety of initiatives aimed at creating an environment in which everyone who walks through our doors feels welcome.

Our efforts were recognized in July 2013, when Memorial Sloan Kettering was named a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. The designation, based on a survey known as the Healthcare Equality Index, considered factors such as our nondiscrimination policies for patients and employees; our visitation policy, which ensures equal rights to LGBT patients and their visitors; and the training we offer our staff to help them better understand the concerns of LGBT patients and their families.

“This acknowledgment is a milestone achievement on the road to inclusiveness,” says Jorge Capote, who heads Memorial Sloan Kettering’s patient representative department and co-chairs the LGBT Inclusion Task Force, along with Melanie Steele, Program Administrator for the Office of Faculty Development and the Office of Diversity Programs in Clinical Care, Research, and Training, and Penny Damaskos, Director of Social Work.

The co-chairs also point to the unwavering support of individuals at “every level” of the institution, including the 15 other members of the task force, hospital administration, and the more than 200 staffers comprising Memorial Sloan Kettering’s resource network for LGBT employees, called LGBT Pride.

“Just as we want employees to bring their whole selves to work, we want our LGBT patients, as well as their family and visitors, to feel welcome and to not have to question whether it’s OK to come out to a staff member — or hold the hand of a loved one,” says Brendan Phalan, Department Fund/Project Manager for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, who leads LGBT Pride along with Rebecca Hawke, Institutional Compliance Manager.

Drafting a National Cancer Action Plan

In January, Memorial Sloan Kettering took its leadership role to a larger stage, inviting experts in LGBT cancer concerns to come together to draft a national LGBT cancer action plan. The two-day summit, the first of its kind, was organized in collaboration with the National LGBT Cancer Network and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.

“This was an historic gathering,” says Memorial Sloan Kettering psychologist and summit co-organizer Jack Burkhalter. “We had a diverse group of participants, and it was so gratifying to see them come to consensus to identify gaps in care and define action steps to close those gaps.”

Recommendations based on findings from the summit are expected later this year. Following the summit was a day of education for healthcare providers interested in learning more about cancer concerns in the LGBT community.

Learn more about the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index.

Funding and scholarship support for summit attendees were provided by the LIVESTRONG Foundation, The Palette Fund, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Geri & ME Nursing Fund, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Survivorship Initiative, and the Network for LGBT Health Equity.

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