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Sioux Falls VA Highlighted for Equitable Healthcare

May 24, 2018 10:04PM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

The Sioux Falls VA Health Care System was recently recognized, against, as a Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.

The Health Care System received top marks for its commitment to equitable, inclusive care for LGBT patients and their families, who can face significant challenges in securing adequate healthcare.

The VA is the only healthcare facility in South Dakota to receive the honor, which is awarded to facilities that meet key criteria for equitable care, including nondiscrimination policies for LGBT patients and employees, a guarantee of equal visitation for same-sex partners and parents, and LGBT health education for key stall members.

Primary care social worker Tammy Reiff has been a champion for the LGBT movement in the VA and spearheads the Health Equality Index as Special Interest Program Manager..

“This is larger than people think. It is not just about having policies in place that say we’re LGBT friendly,” says Reiff. “It is actually educating our staff, visitors, and veterans to say this is how we prove it. We want all of our veterans to know that they are included in our care. Anyone can write a policy but our director has been incredibly supportive of educating our staff in LGBT specific care.”

With that aim, the VA will have booths at pride festivals this months in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, specifically inviting LGBT veterans to sign up for care. Reiff has visited VA Community Based Outpatient Clinics across the area to initiate invite conversation around LGBT issues and language. The HEI extends to both LGBT veterans and staff and is designed to make sure both feel supported and understood.

“When I first started down this road four years ago, the challenge was just having the conversation,” says Reiff. “People want to be sensitive and not say something that would offend. But the conversation is still essential. Because, if you are a provider, a person who has transitioned from female to male may still have breasts and a uterus. So that person still has to have their annual exams. Same with a male to female transition.”

Reiff’s work has brought her into contact with a number of LGBT veterans, including a local  transgender woman whose family rejected her.

“She kind of came to the point where the VA was her safe place,” says Reiff. “That was confirmation to me that we are doing something right. I am very invested in what we do to support our country’s heroes fully. The distrust that many of them have in our military is very real. We need to do better.”