Posted by: outandequal | March 26, 2012

Healthy Lives for LGBT Employees

Health care is prominently featured in the news this week as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments about the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s overhaul of the health care system. It is also National LGBT Health Awareness Week.  And that makes this a great time to look at the well-being of LGBT employees.

It is well documented that health issues can have a significant impact on productivity and performance in the workplace (see, for example, the National Business Group on Health 2009/2010 Report, Staying@Work). We also know that facing discrimination or coping with the pressures of being in the closet are very stressful and can have a profoundly negative impact on LGBT people’s health. So, creating workplaces where LGBT employees feel safe and valued truly has a direct effect on health.

The LGBT community faces several significant challenges to our health. The National Coalition for LGBT Health notes that we are approximately half as likely to have health insurance compared to the general population in the United States. When people don’t have health insurance, they are much less likely to get the preventive care that leads to long term health. SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US government) notes that studies have consistently shown higher rates of substance use and addiction in our communities, along with heavier use over the lifespan than non-LGBT communities. Transgender people continue to face adversity finding and receiving appropriate medical care.  And, of course, HIV continues to impact our community, with new infections, as well as on-going health challenges for those who had previously contracted the disease.  LGBT People of Color face even greater health challenges across the board as they cope with racism compounded with anti-LGBT prejudice.

But there is important work being done to improve health for LGBT people, and we’ve made some great steps forward in recent years. The US Department of Health and Human Services released a 10 year plan for American’s health called Healthy People 2020. It includes specific information about steps to improve the health of LGBT people: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health. It is important that the needs of our community are included in this long term effort to increase health for all Americans and it is groundbreaking that LGBT people were included as an under-resourced population.  Last year, the federal Institutes of Medicine issued another important report, The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding, which looks at the many factors contributing to the health needs of LGBT people.

But we don’t have to rely on the government or health care professionals to improve our health. There are things we all can do.

Employers, ERGs, and HR professionals can work to improve health for LGBT people by:

  • Creating a welcoming environment for LGBT people, our families, and our allies so that employees feel comfortable bringing their whole (and most productive) selves to work;
  • Reducing stress in the workplace by taking steps to ensure that discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity don’t happen, or are addressed promptly and effectively when they do;
  • Recognizing transgender health care needs, including transition-related care, as medically necessary and providing appropriate coverage so that transgender employees can have their medical needs met without additional financial burdens not faced by other employees;
  • Providing domestic partner coverage so that spouses and children are able to access health care for prevention and treatment of illnesses, since our families are at greater risk of not having health insurance;
  • Training human resources and employee assistance programs (EAPs) to provide culturally appropriate and sensitive services for LGBT employees and our families seeking assistance;
  • Offering wellness programs to all employees and ensuring that these efforts are fully inclusive of LGBT people;
  • Learning more about the specific health needs of LGBT people and considering ways to apply that information in your company’s human resource initiatives; additional resources are available on the National Coalition for LGBT Health’s webpage.

This is also a good time to make a commitment to our own health and well-being. Most of us could benefit from taking steps to reduce stress, make healthy eating choices, and adding a little more exercise to our day. So, here’s wishing you wellness for National LGBT Health Awareness Week!

If you’d like to learn more, The National Coalition for LGBT Health is hosting a National Conference Call with Dr. Mary Wakefield, Administrator, US Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources Services Administration, on Tuesday, March 27, 1 pm EST.  Click here for more details.

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