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Rush Center first to provide trans health-care benefits
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

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Chicago's Rush University Medical Center will provide comprehensive transgender health care benefits to all employees enrolled in the organization's health care plan.

Rush announced the move in a Jan. 16 press release that stated that transgender care benefits will include "counseling, hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery and all other treatments related to gender transition."

It is the first hospital in Illinois to offer such benefits.

Tanya Friese, DNP, RN, CNL, USN ( ret. ), is an assistant professor and vice-chair of the organization's LGBTQ Health Committee, founded in 2014 as part of Rush's Diversity Leadership Council.

She credited the genesis of the decision with the impassioned leadership and commitment of Brad Hinrichs, a now retired assistant professor and administrative vice-president of transformation at Rush University Medical Center.

"Brad was a member of our diversity leadership group which was in existence prior to us starting the LGBTQ Health Committee," she told Windy City Times. "Transgender health care was always very important to him but we did not have a vehicle to move it forward. When the committee was started, he took it on as his personal project. He was able to take our ideas and find additional champions across many different professions in different aspects of the medical center. He was integral in helping us transform some of the benefits for our employees."

Friese stated transgender health care was always one of five priorities set out by the committee and that Rush's relationship to the greater Chicago community played an integral role in its inclusion.

"Every initiative we've done particularly related to diversity and inclusion has answered a direct need that we have heard on several fronts," she said. "We had patients that voiced their concerns, we had employees that voiced the need and our students are forthright. A lot of us have worked with different aspects of the LGBTQ population and have known trans people for years so having that intimate knowledge of the need, joined our voices together."

Rush has recognized a national trend which is moving towards an understanding of the transgender experience.

In fact, the move has had a quantitative effect across Rush's campus as its various colleges follow the lead taken by the Medical Center in terms of inclusion of transgender health into their curriculums.

"The students are very excited that we are out about the transgender population," Friese asserted. "At their request, eventually we are going to be adding a lot more [trans related] content to our medical school and health sciences management curriculum."

She added that, with assistance from Howard Brown Health's Cecilia Hardacker, RN, she is working to integrate transgender health care into content carried by Rush's College of Nursing.

"We will be educating the next generation of providers in a much more thorough way," Friese said.

As part of the equally meticulous examination into the possibilities of providing transgender health benefits, Rush did a cost-benefit analysis.

"It came out very positively," Friese said. "The benefit would be much more to the employer and the covered individual than there would be any set back related to insurance cost. I was very surprised to find that we were the first medical center to provide the coverage. Now that we have made this move, I am wondering why other institutions do not."

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