LGBTQ+ Health Services Seeks Expansion to Meet Increasing Community, National Need
June 30, 2023
Denver Health operating model a rarity among safety-net hospitals
LGBTQ+ Health Services at Denver Health operates as a decentralized model of health care for Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community. The goal is for any LGBTQ+ person to be met with open, excellent, affirming care and treatment at any access point within the Denver Health system, whether visiting a medical professional at the hospital, a community-based clinic, a school-based health center, or even interacting with security or billing.
LGBTQ+ people often have not identified themselves to their health care providers because of stigma and judgment. But as the LGBTQ+ population grows, particularly in Colorado, there is a necessity for unequivocal, affirming treatment across all health care services for the community.
LGBTQ+ Health Services officially launched in 2017 as the nerve center of Denver Health’s decentralized model. The program seeks to be LGBTQ+ patients’ first connection to care at Denver Health and to ensure, through staff training and education, that LGBTQ+ people are being met with affirming care and treatment and not just “gay-friendly” services. With an affirming approach LGBTQ+ Health Services’ patient navigators guide new and current patients to any Denver Health service they need, and their staff works to enhance and expand LGBTQ+-affirming training, education, policies, and programs internally and externally.
While it has operated for more than half a decade, LGBTQ+ Health Services has never before had the means to conduct an extensive survey of Denver Health’s patient community to assess immediate and long-term need.
Last year, a landscape analysis was undertaken, thanks to some resolute donors. Dr. Stephen Wolf, Director of Emergency Medicine at Denver Health, along with his brother, Brian Wolfburg, and Brian’s spouse, Jake Wolfburg, established a donor group consisting of friends and family with the goal of annually supporting LGBTQ+ Health Services at Denver Health.
The long-term purpose of the landscape analysis is threefold: to improve how Denver Health provides care for the LGBTQ+ community; to create specialized training and care specific to the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ population; and to understand the perspectives, knowledge and skills of Denver Health’s clinical staff in providing care for LGBTQ+ patients and their distinct experiences.
Although the program works effectively to ensure patients are always met with affirming treatment, Tracy Scott, Director of LGBTQ+ Health Services since December 2020, acknowledges that there is still work to do—one reason why a deeper evaluation of Denver Health’s LGBTQ+ community is critically important.
“That’s not necessarily because someone doesn’t have positive intent or a wish to be affirming,” said Scott. “We just need to help with some language and tools, and that’s what our team is here for.” As an example, Scott points to normalizing the collection of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) information from all patients as a critically important process for staff and patients of any sexual or gender orientation to become comfortable with, both in the asking and the answering.
Scott said she has not encountered the decentralized model of LGBTQ+ health care at many hospitals, let alone as part of a safety-net system like Denver Health. Hospitals often have no dedicated resource to serve the needs of LGBTQ+ patients, or if they do, it typically operates out of a single building or space. While a centralized operating model has advantages, LGBTQ+ people may feel systemically isolated.
The early results of the landscape analysis have yielded some immediate actions to further strengthen Denver Health’s decentralized approach. Again, Scott wants to ensure SOGI information is being collected from all patients, especially when they first enter the Denver Health system. She acknowledged the necessity of reaching more LGBTQ+ patients who are people of color in the community. Scott and her team will also continue to verify that all Denver Health employees, no matter their position, have completed LGBTQ+ sensitivity training.
Scott made clear that they have more information to investigate from the landscape analysis. “Really getting into more granular data,” she said. “Understanding: who are the communities coming through? What are those health outcomes? What are the social determinants of health? What are the impacts of our services, and how can we better meet the needs of the community?”
In the six years that LGBTQ+ Health Services has been tracking the number of primary care patients that have entered through the program, Denver Health’s LGBTQ+ population size has risen almost 300%. Scott emphasized the need for ongoing analysis to understand the reasons, but she pointed to patients feeling more comfortable identifying as LGBTQ+ to an affirming health care provider, and Colorado’s general population growth, including an unprecedented number of transgender people—especially trans youth and their families—who are seeking gender-affirming medical advice and treatment recently made illegal in other states.
“Colorado is increasingly becoming a refugee state for LGBTQ+ and gender-affirming health care,” Scott explained.
A decentralized model of health services, by its nature, takes time to grow and sustain. LGBTQ+ Health Services has a small staff to serve such a rapidly growing community.
“We’re working hard to keep up with the volume of patients,” said Scott. “I think there’s more we can do for the community in terms of navigation and addressing barriers.”
A gift to Denver Health Foundation is the most immediate and impactful action you can take to ensure Denver Health’s commitment to provide equitable and affirming health care for LGBTQ+ people in Colorado. Join the effort to support LGBTQ+ Health Services by visiting our donation page, choose OTHER in the drop-down designation menu, and type in LGBTQ to give your support!