UAMS Holds First Proud to Serve All Event

By Kalee Sexton

The Nov. 8 event was held to reaffirm UAMS’s commitment to provide all Arkansans with quality care, regardless of a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Several speakers addressed a crowd clad in rainbow-colored face masks. The speakers all touched on the same theme: recognizing the importance of inclusivity of those in the LGBTQ+ community.

UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, emphasized that all physicians take the Hippocratic Oath and pledge to use their skills to care for patients.

“Nowhere does the oath specify which patients,” he said. “It doesn’t exclude patients because of who they are, who they love, how they identify themselves, whether they go to church on Sunday, Saturday or not at all. But rather, we take an oath to use our talents to care for everyone.”

Dr. Patterson speaks at the DDEI Proud to Serve All event.

Dr. Patterson speaks at the DDEI Proud to Serve All event.

The event also highlighted the UAMS LGBTQ+ Subcommittee, which promotes a welcoming and affirming campus climate by increasing inclusion, awareness and education while advocating for equitable health care services for students, employees, patients and the community as a whole.

Masil George, M.D., and Daniel Knight, M.D., co-chairs of the subcommittee, spoke about their experiences caring for disenfranchised patients. George, who is director of the Geriatric Palliative Care Program, said she took care of a patient suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) early in her career.

“My patient endured additional suffering because my patient was gay,” she said. “While suffering is a shared human condition, as a palliative care provider, I believe that nobody should endure suffering — especially preventable suffering — that is a result of the gap in knowledge and understanding of the unique health care challenges faced by our LGBTQ+ individuals.”

To identify herself as an ally to LGBTQ+ individuals, she wears a rainbow pin on her white coat and put a sticker of the Human Rights Campaign’s logo, which has a yellow equal sign against a blue background, outside her office to ensure any patient, staff member or student can feel safe going to her.

Knight, a family physician, said that in the early 1980s, many HIV/AIDS patients didn’t have many places to go for care. But UAMS was a place they could go, he said.

“I’ve seen so much prejudice against patients’ families, students and providers,” he said.

That’s one reason he now co-chairs the LGBTQ+ Subcommittee.

“Our members serve as advisors for legislative committees and try to ensure equitable care for LGBTQ+ patients and their families,” he said. “It has also helped with the Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index, which is a measure of support for the needs of LGBTQ+ patients.”

UAMS staff members attend the DDEI Proud to Serve All event.

UAMS staff members attend the DDEI Proud to Serve All event.

UAMS currently holds a rating of 95 out of 100 in the Healthcare Equality Index and was named a top performer for 2020. The rating system uses five criteria to measure how a health care facility measures up in regards to LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

The committee meets bimonthly and has worked to add pronoun placards to UAMS nametags and to get allowance for preferred name changes for UAMS badges. It has also advocated for unisex bathrooms.

Knight encouraged attendees to sign up for the Friends of the LGBTQ+ Subcommittee, which was started for those who want to help but can’t commit the time to being on the subcommittee.

Guests were also encouraged to sign a poster to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community and to take photos with cardboard cutout borders.

UAMS Medical Center CEO Steppe Mette, M.D., spoke about the importance of inclusion in health care, referring to the university’s mission statement.

“The mission of UAMS is to improve the health, health care and well-being of Arkansans and of others in the region, the nation and the world. Note that this statement doesn’t exclude. It doesn’t say we will improve and health and well-being of some Arkansans,” he said.

He also touched on UAMS’s values: integrity, respect, diversity, health equity, team work, creativity and excellence.

“Our values should leave no doubt about our commitment to serve all,” he said.

“Health is a human right. It’s not that health care alone is a human right, but that health itself is,” he said, highlighting the World Health Organization and the U.N. Universal Declaration for Human Rights.

“I challenge you to join the work to safeguard health and fulfill the U.N. goal to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” he said.

Mette said UAMS has been working on health equity by reducing and eliminating disparities in health and drivers that adversely affect excluded and marginalized groups, adding that it is important to identify gaps to address the root causes of health inequity.

“We will continue to provide gender affirming care and work to assure equitable access to health care for all LGBTQ+ Arkansans,” he said.

He also spoke about his time in New York City as a medical student in the early 1980s, when HIV/AIDS first appeared. The disease was characterized in the “most disparaging of ways,” he said.

Treating those patients taught him so much more than medicine.

“I listened to them, I cared for them and I cried with them,” he said. “I wish I — I wish

Event attendees sign a poster.

Attendees of the DDEI Proud to Serve All event sign a poster showing their support for LGBTQ+ individuals.

we — could have done more.”

UAMS must work to remove barriers that prevent anyone from getting the health care they need, he said.

Luann Racher, M.D., an assistant professor in the UAMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the UAMS Gender Clinic, said the crisis affecting the transgender community is unique.

“Being trans doesn’t make you suicidal,” she said. “Being trans doesn’t make you feel like you’re not worthy. It’s society that makes trans people feel suicidal.”

The Gender Clinic has provided surgical and hormonal treatment to more than 450 transgender and gender-nonconforming patients since it opened in 2015.

“We are all the same — we are all human, and we all deserve health care and the same access to that health care,” Racher said. “We have to speak up. I want to issue a challenge: don’t lead silently. Lead loudly.”

Racher then introduced two medical students, Carter Pacheco and Austin Richards, who run Rainbow Night at UAMS’s 12th Street Health and Wellness Clinic. The clinic, held monthly, provides a safe, nonjudgmental space for LGBTQ+ patients to get treatment they need. All services are free, and patients can also get some free legal services there provided by Legal Aid of Arkansas.

Brendon Coughran, president of UAMS’s Rainbow Health Alliance and a 3rd year pharmacy student, said his organization was created to unify and amplify LGBTQ+ voices across campus.

“Advocating for diversity and inclusiveness in health systems will improve the lives of our patients,” he said.

Coughran also spoke about the importance of fostering a generation of health professionals that seeks to provide equitable care to all patients.

Brian Gittens, Ed.D, MPA, vice chancellor of the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, gave closing remarks, quoting Professor Brené Brown, who said, “if I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

“Today, as we celebrate inclusiveness, we celebrate belonging,” Gittens said.

“Although we participate in National Coming Out Day, Pride Month and other LGBTQ-related events, we recognize that our commitment to promote an inclusive climate where everyone feels a sense of belonging, rather than just fitting in, is not limited to a single event or a single month, but is ongoing,” he said. “Working together, we will realize our vision of an inclusive community where people don’t have to be like everyone else and just fit in — they can get to be themselves and belong.”