5 Trailblazers Making Waves in LGBTQ Healthcare

It’s Pride month, and we’re taking some time to honor some of the most influential people at the intersection of the LGBTQ community and healthcare. Accessing life-saving medicine and medical care can be difficult for many LGBTQ individuals across the U.S. and abroad. Learn more about what these trailblazers are doing to increase access to healthcare for the community.

Gilead Sciences

HIV has long been a cause for concern for members of the LGBTQ community. Gay and bisexual men remain the most affected by HIV in the United States. According to the CDC, gay and bisexual men accounted for 67% (26,844) of all HIV diagnoses in 2016, and 82% of HIV diagnoses among males aged 13 and older.

Gilead Sciences, a biotechnology company that researches, develops and commercializes new drugs, has revolutionized efforts to combat the HIV epidemic in the U.S. The company released a new drug called Truvada for PrEP® (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) in 2012, which uses anti-HIV medications to keep HIV-negative people from becoming infected with the virus. Since Truvada for PrEP® hit the market, HIV exposure rates have fallen considerably in the U.S. According to recent studies, daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. And among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70%.

But there’s still more work to be done. Just 200,000 of the estimated 1.1 million Americans who are at risk for HIV currently receive Truvada for PrEP. Many Americans who are at risk for HIV can’t access the drug due to certain social and structural barriers, such as HIV stigma, homophobia, lack of PrEP awareness, high costs, lack of insurance, and limited access to healthcare.

To further help combat the HIV epidemic, Gilead just announced that it will be donating up to 2.4 million bottles of Truvada® to the CDC for uninsured Americans at risk for HIV. The agreement lasts until 2030 and may transition to a new drug called Descovy® if it is approved by the FDA for PrEP. With this donation, eligible uninsured patients at risk for HIV will be able to access the drug at no cost.

Scrubs Mag proudly salutes Gilead Sciences for developing and donating life-saving drugs for those most at risk for HIV, including members of the LGBTQ community.

Mark T. Bertolini (Chairman and CEO of Aetna)

Bertolini has had a major impact on the healthcare market during his time at Aetna, one of the largest insurance companies in the industry. He stepped into the role of CEO back in 2010 and since then, he’s been instrumental in bringing about lasting changes to the company and the healthcare industry overall. He helped organize and facilitate the company’s $69 billion sale to CVS Health. With pharmacies and consumer-facing outlets all over the country, CVS Health will work with Aetna to lower the cost of care and increase patient access to healthcare services. In the coming years, patients will be able to access certain healthcare services at their local CVS pharmacy, making it easier for patients, particularly those in rural areas, to get the care they need instead of having to trek to the nearest doctor’s office.

In addition to his work for Aetna, Bertolini became the first straight ally board member of the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. The organization supports and advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ business owners, promotes broad-based economic advancement and empowerment of the global LGBTQ community, and works to ensure the implementation of pro-business, LGBTQ-inclusive policies at the federal, state, and local levels of government. With a background in healthcare, Bertolini can approach these issues from a unique perspective, shining a light on health-related concerns facing the LGBTQ community.

Jane Powers, MSW, LICSW (Acting CEO of Fenway Health)

Located in Boston, MA, Fenway Health is one of the largest LGBTQ-friendly healthcare organizations in the country. Since 1971, the organization has been working to ensure the health of the LGBTQ community, people living with HIV/AIDS, and the broader population. Fenway Health provides a variety of services in addition to comprehensive healthcare, including research, education, and advocacy for the LGBTQ community.

The organization launched The Fenway Institute back in 2001, an interdisciplinary center for research, training, education and policy development focusing on national and international health issues, particularly as they relate to LGBTQ communities. As part of The Fenway Institute, the organization also launched the LGBTQ Aging Project in 2001, a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to ensuring LGBTQ older adults have equal access to life-prolonging benefits, protections, and healthcare services.

Jane Powers has been serving as Acting CEO of Fenway Health since late 2018. She served on the year-long ECHO online learning community known as Transforming LGBTQ Health in Primary Care from 2016 to 2017. She has also presented at several national conferences on the behavioral health needs of LGBTQ people. In addition, she serves on the LGBTQ Task Force of the National Association of Community Health Centers, helping members of the LGBTQ community access the care they need at local health centers all over the country.

Ryan Thoreson (Researcher for the LGBTQ Rights Program, Human Rights Watch)

As a global organization, Human Rights Watch investigates and reports on human rights abuses happening all over the world. The organization released a 34-page report titled “You Don’t Want Second Best” back in 2018 that examines LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare. The report shows many LGBTQ people struggle when it comes to finding healthcare providers who are knowledgeable about their needs. LGBTQ people also tend to encounter discrimination from insurers or providers, and delay or forego care because of concerns about how they will be treated.

The report also highlights the need for healthcare anti-discrimination policies at the federal level to protect members of the LGBTQ community. Healthcare discrimination heightens the risk for a range of health issues for the LGBTQ community, including depression, addiction, cancer and chronic conditions.

Ryan Thoreson authored the “You Don’t Want Second Best” report based on his research from August 2017 to July 2018. To complete his work, Thoreson conducted outreach through a range of national and state LGBTQ groups, including legal advocates and service providers who circulated information about the project to their networks. Thoreson conducted a total of 81 interviews specifically related to healthcare discrimination, including 33 with individuals who said they had been discriminated against in medical settings and 48 with advocates and providers working with affected individuals.

The report has led to increased awareness regarding LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare, helping advocates focus their efforts on relevant issues.

Michael Adams (CEO of SAGE: Advocacy and Services for LGBTQ Elders)

Since 1978, SAGE has been working to ensure the rights of older LGBTQ adults. The organization advocates for the rights of LGBTQ elders, educates the public, care providers and policymakers on LGBTQ aging issues, and has established LGBTQ-friendly senior care centers across the NYC area, offering free or low-cost meals, health and financial services, social events and support groups. The organization fights against all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ elders, including in areas of housing, healthcare, and disabilities.

CEO Michael Adams has increased the scope of SAGE’s work on behalf of LGBTQ older people over the past several years, turning SAGE into the country’s go-to organization when it comes to LGBTQ aging issues. During his time with the organization, Adams has used his experience to improve opportunities and the overall quality of life for millions of LGBTQ elders across the country, helping them access vital services such as affordable housing, healthcare services, and disability services.

Over the course of his career, Adams has authored publications on a range of pressing LGBTQ issues, including what it means to age successfully as a LGBTQ elder. He has also taught numerous law school courses on sexual orientation and gender identity. He has discussed and debated LGBTQ issues on hundreds of media programs and has twice been named one of Out magazine’s Out 100, a list of the most influential out professionals in the country.

At Scrubs Mag, we proudly pledge our support to these vital LGBTQ healthcare and advocacy organizations for all they do to support the LGBTQ community. Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. Everyone should be able to access health-related services regardless of their sexual orientation, HIV status, or gender identity.

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