By Kendall McGee | April 1, 2021 at 4:43 PM EDT – Updated April 1 at 5:18 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – NHRMC, The Frank Harr Foundation and Seeds of Healing partnered Thursday morning to bring vaccines to a group that’s historically been marginalized, the LGBTQIA+ community.
The Ormond Center on Princess Street typically hosts meetings for diverse groups, but on Thursday, the building was transformed into a COVID-19 vaccine clinic, complete with rainbow masks and balloons.
Staff working the vaccine event either identified as LGBTQIA+ or affirming allies, making sure Wilmington’s community had ample opportunity to take their shot.
While it was important to the organizers to get shots in arms, the bigger goal was to break down boundaries in healthcare and let the LGBTQIA+ community know they’re welcome.
“That’s really why we’re doing this, is to make sure the LGBT community feel safe getting healthcare and also understanding that healthcare at large can be a safe space for them. Historically it hasn’t been,” said Frank Harr Foundation executive director Shelly O’Rourke.
The hospital was one of the main sponsors of the event and staff know firsthand distrust in healthcare is still a problem for the LGBTQIA+ community, but it’s an issue they’ve been working for years to improve.
The hospital’s STAR group kicked off the journey to make the hospital more inclusive back in 2018 by participating in the Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index to see how their policies ranked related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQIA+ patients. Of the organizations that participated in the assessment, NHRMC scored the lowest in the entire state, but in the years since, a lot has changed at the hospital.
“We are thrilled to announce that we were able to increase our score from 25 points to 85 out of 100 so we’re now recognized as a top performer for the Human Rights Campaign for LGBTQ equality and inclusion,” said programs manager Amber Woodard.
In the last few years, they’ve added policies to protect employees and visitors and increased internal and external visibility. They’ve held training for staff, added an Ally team, placed the pride flag on their patient advocate signs and added new fields in their electronic medical records for sexual orientation and gender identity.
They’re working now to add a pronouns field to the patient whiteboards in each hospital room.
“There are allies within the organization and members of our community. They’re going to make sure the discrimination is a thing of the past in Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center,” explained director of trauma services Terri DeWees.
It’s clear there’s a demand for the services, too. More than 180 people registered to get shots at Thursday’s vaccine event.
Staff members say the work is far from over, but they’re excited to look back at how far they’ve come. Plans are already underway for more outreach events this summer.
“I think what we need to do as a community is look past our differences and recognize that we’re all people — we’re people first,” said DeWees.
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