Transgender patient files discrimination complaint against UIHC

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | MAY 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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When Shay O'Reilly, a former DI employee, contacted the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics endocrinology clinic to get his hormone imbalance regulated, he didn't anticipate being turned away twice after allegedly being told they didn't see people with his "condition."

Iowa City resident O'Reilly is transgender — people who identifies with genders outside their biological one.

The 22-year-old was referred to the endocrinology clinic by his primary-care physician after testing at the Emma Goldman clinic found his hormone levels half what they should be, an imbalance that could possibly lead to long-term complications.

O'Reilly was only able to schedule an appointment after contacting the clinic's director.

"Had I not gone that extra mile, I wouldn't have been seen," he said.

O'Reilly filed a discrimination complaint May 3 against the UIHC with the goal of prompting the university to make sure no other transgender individuals would be denied easy access to health care.

"Nobody should be turned away ever, at all," he said. "What I would like to see out of this complaint is that the university would do whatever is necessary to ensure no patient is turned away."

Tom Moore, UI spokesman, said the UI will follow up to ensure the case is properly resolved.

"We strive to care for all patients to the best of our ability without regard to their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or economic status," he wrote in an email. "Clearly, all feedback is a helpful learning tool for our staff and helps us provide more appropriate care in the future."

He said certain programs had been put in place in order to help better ensure UI faculty are educated on transgender services such as safe-zone training, which began this spring, and a series of symposiums and workshops that will begin later this month.

O'Reilly is not alone in his alleged mistreatment. stef shuster, a transgender UI graduate student and co-organizer of transgender advocacy group TransCollaborations, experienced a similar incident in 2007 when seeking treatment through UI Student Health Service, shuster said.

"The interim director at the time promptly responded, reached out to me, and did workshops with the staff on how to be more culturally competent," shuster said. "That was a great outcome."

O'Reilly said a representative from the Iowa City Civil Rights Office stated the public's perception might differ if any other minority demographic experienced what the 22-year-old did.

"When [the representative] put it in the frame of any other protected class, it was pretty appalling what had happened," he said. "Because transgender people are so discriminated against and so unaccepted by society, people have trouble applying the framework to transgender people that they do to anybody of any other protected class."

Advocates said health-care providers who can service transgendered people are scarce nationally as well.

"A lot of these instances and policies which inadvertently affect transgender people don't start out to intentionally exclude transgender people," said Vincent Paolo Villano, the communications manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality. "I think in the last couple of years, the medical profession has made a lot of progress in understanding how to properly treat transgender people."

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