CHICAGO — The Chicago Department of Public Health unveiled a new LGBT health strategy to community leaders and advocates Friday as part of the city’s Healthy Chicago initiative.
The LGBT Community Action Plan outlines 22 strategies developed and suggested by community health advocates, providers and stakeholders to address several areas of health disparities among people of the local LGBT population. Strategies include combating high rates of smoking, HIV prevention, obesity, access to care, taking on violence hate crimes with new resources and educational outreach and more.
“Chicagoans in communities across the city face similar health concerns, but there are clear disparities in health status among the city’s diverse LGBT community that require specific strategies to target and address these concerns,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the CDPH.
The action plan is a broad type of approach to addressing the disparities in the LGBT community, and what’s important is the implementation of the strategies, said Choucair, noting the aggressive roll out of the Healthy Chicago public health strategies.
The CDPH will continue working with community partners such as Howard Brown Health Center, the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, Affinity, the Center on Halsted and others as well as with the City Council to put new policies in place.
“Chicago’s strength is in the diversity of its communities,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “And I am committed to ensuring that Chicagoans have access to the care and information they need to live healthy lives and contribute fully to the vibrancy of our city.”
The first strategy on the list calls for the collection of sexual orientation data in electronic medical records prior to the Affordable Care Act mandate in 2014 and encourages the collection of gender identity data.
“Without data collection and assessment, it will be impossible to address problems, there will be these invisible pockets of need,” said Dr. Alicia K. Matthews, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Health Systems Science at University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s the first time to take a snapshot of the overall health of the community and have priorities in place to address the community in general as well as the LGBT population.”
During the brief discussion Matthews thanked CDPH for including tobacco usage in the plan, calling it a “linchpin” behavior, and if properly executed, will help bolster other aspects of the plan such as building knowledge about cancer risks and heart disease.
“That, for me, is a very positive thing,” Matthews said.
In her opening remarks, Chairman and Commissioner of Human Relations Mona Noriega said that hate crimes are also a major focus in the plan and is a social issue that needs to be addressed as a health issue.
“We have an opportunity to have a plan with forethought and community input,” Noriega said. “It makes sense, and we’re not used to common sense. Now the real work begins.”
Bullying among LGBT students in school is another massive priority, according to Noriega.
Other priorities identified in the plan include the development of LGBT cultural competency training to help educate health providers, promote the inclusion of same sex couples in programs aimed at healthy pregnancies and childbirth and improve the tracking of hate crimes against transgender people while publicizing resources and conduction outreach to avoid violence.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) also made brief comments about the plan, with Tunney calling it a, “step in the right direction” and that health and wellness should be incorporated into the city’s annual pride parade festivities.
“What we are doing in Chicago could be a model for the entire nation,” Tunney said.
Cappleman said the focus moving forward should be on the best use of the community’s health resources and that performance metrics are in place to ensure that, “every penny is used wisely.”
“We’re also making sure that we’re looking at where the gaps and where the duplications are, and these days, it’s been difficult for a lot of the providers because you’ve all been competing with one another for services,” Cappleman said. “Those days have to come to an end. We have to now start collaborating. That’s the survival.”
Addressing LGBT youth homelessness should focus beyond the number of beds provided and onto how the services can help stabilize and improve the lives of homeless youth, Cappleman added.
“That’s the direction we have to go in, and we are committed to doing that,” he said.