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Increasing access to care by becoming allies

Closing gaps in health care for the LGBTQ+ community begins with listening and learning

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By Sponsored


Research suggests that members of the LGBTQ+ community often face barriers to accessing proper care, resulting in health disparities.

Further, discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is linked to higher rates of substance abuse, suicide, and even psychiatric disorders. 

In Episode 5 of Good Health, Better World, host Eileen Beckjord talks with Shireen Haq, MPH, program director in UPMC Health Plan’s National Network Development & Strategic Expansion team. 

Shireen works with providers that care for underserved populations to develop strategies and initiatives that impact the accessibility and quality of care for their patients. She is active in UPMC’s Diversity & Inclusion efforts and LGBTQ+ employee, community, and member initiatives. 

She is involved in UPMC Health Plan’s Transgender Task Force, that focuses in part on linking more individuals to the proper services.

Read part of the conversation, here, then listen to the entire podcast.

What challenges are there in your view, to delivering whole-person care for individuals in this community?

There’s a cultural competency piece. We’re looking for affirming providers who acknowledge that this community has a different type of experience. I think that’s the first barrier to access. Part of it is education. We’ve heard from our provider community, people who say, ‘I want to do the right thing.’ They are well-intended.

It’s important to have everyone along the continuum of care to be involved in this process. It starts with community feedback and community insight, hearing from our members, from members of the community, and from community organizations that have been doing this work.

Our role begins with giving them a space to share. We had focus groups with various populations within the community, asking them about access challenges they have experienced.

Shireen Haq is a program director in UPMC Health Plan’s National Network Development & Strategic Expansion team. She has a background in public health, health disparities, and qualitative research. She works with providers that care for underserved populations to develop strategies and initiatives that impact the accessibility and quality of care for their patients. She is active in UPMC’s Diversity & Inclusion efforts and LGBTQ+ employee, community, and member initiatives. Prior to working at UPMC, she worked at MD Anderson in Symptom Research to develop symptom assessment tools and evaluate symptom management for drug trials

What are some of the most important next steps you think we have to take at UPMC Health Plan? What haven’t we accomplished yet? 

We’re creating an LGBTQ+-affirming provider designation for our providers, so that a member who is looking at our provider directory is able to filter for LGBTQ+-affirming providers. 

To have that designation, we need a definition. We have been working with community partners with our provider partner community in creating that criteria as well as that application process. Providers will be encouraged to apply for that designation. 

I think it will allow us to innovate in communities with community partners so that we can start to address these gaps in access.

And ideally there shouldn’t be a need for an LGBTQ+-affirming designation. It should be the expectation. It should be across every systemic barrier that we’ve created minority groups — that to me is what equitable means. But it starts with this internal reflection. 

Listen to the rest of the conversation on the Good World, Better Health podcast.

Learn more about the UPMC Center for Social Impact, by clicking here, or by email at socialimpact@upmc.edu to inquire about other partnership opportunities.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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