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December 4, 2013

Affirmations gets $158,000 grant for health care training

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — Affirmations, a nonprofit organization serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in southeast Michigan, was awarded a grant of close to $158,630 from the Jewish Fund in November to expand health and wellness programming.

The organization, which is based in Ferndale, had previously established culturally competent professional training — focused on gender identity and sexual orientation — for mental health professionals. With the Jewish Fund grant, Health and Wellness Manager Lydia Ahlum Hanson said Affirmations would expand the training to practicing nurses and nursing students.

“Many LGBT people are unintentionally harmed by well-meaning medical providers who have not been trained specifically on issues significant to the LGBT population, including co-occurring conditions, long-term effects of social stigma and the effects of legal inequities,” Hanson said. “These professional trainings will advance health equity by shining light on the health impacts of stigma, discrimination and societal inequalities.”

The Jewish Fund, based in Bloomfield Hills, was created as a partnership between Sinai Hospital and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

Jewish Fund Executive Director Margo Pernick said the Jewish Fund worked with Affirmations a few years go to help keep the organization’s help line funded. When the Jewish Fund was contacted this year by Affirmations, Pernick said the board felt the health and wellness program Hanson wanted to implement was worthy of the grant.

“When (Affirmations) contacted us about this current grant, we already had confidence in them and knew them as an organization, and their program fit well with access to health care for at-risk people,” Pernick said. “They convinced us that a lot of people in the LGBT community don’t feel comfortable going to their health care provider, and by creating a more sensitive, culturally competent group of health care providers, starting with nurses, it would increase the utilization of health care services by the LGBT community.”

Hanson said Affirmations would do the training in-house, similar to what they have done with the mental health training, with two core training sessions a year. Each session would be a two-day initiative, one on sexual orientation and the other on gender identity.

“We know there is a lot of the LGBT community that carry a specific burden about health concerns, and studies talk about the impact on their physical health because of discrimination and stigma,” Hanson said. “We want to call more attention toward the LGBT culture and help health care professionals know how to work best with their LGBT clients.”

Hanson said most of the discrimination and stigma LGBT people face from health care professionals is unintentional. By training the professionals, beginning with nurses, she said the knowledge quickly would spread.

“Providers don’t always ask the right questions when doing physical exams, and when they ask about birth control, they don’t ask about sexual health questions that encompasses a LGBT person’s experiences and helps open the door for them to talk about sexual risk,” Hanson said. “On forms, therapists and doctors ask about being married, divorced or single, but what about couples that are not legally married in Michigan — what do they check? It is similar with gender identity, as they might be confused what to check.

“We need providers to think about that on an administrative level and interpersonal level to offer services inclusive to the LGBT community.”

The grant is a multiyear grant that will cover a three-year period, Pernick said.

“We met with a large group of staff, and we were convinced this is a real problem and people are not going to doctors or nurses for preventative issues or problems because they don’t feel comfortable, because medical staff has been insulting or offensive, and not necessarily deliberately, but because of a lack of knowledge,” she said.

“Knowing that there is a portion of the population not getting health care for a very simple reason that is preventable, this is an easy remedy and this program can alleviate that problem for those that take advantage of it.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.