ACLU of Washington Sues Swedish Health for Breach of Settlement for Failing to Improve Transgender Health Services
SEATTLE — The ACLU of Washington on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Swedish Health Services for refusing to meet the terms of a settlement agreement designed to end the hospital system’s discriminatory practices and improve health care access for transgender patients.
In 2017, the ACLU-WA filed a lawsuit, Robbins v. Swedish Health Services, on behalf of Ari Robbins, a Seattle man who was wrongfully turned away from Swedish solely because he is transgender. Mr. Robbins was scheduled to have medically necessary chest reconstruction surgery at Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics — a specialty clinic operated by Swedish Health Services. But Swedish canceled Mr. Robbins’ surgery, along with the appointments of several other transgender patients, as part of a “pause” it implemented to stop the treatment of transgender patients – and only transgender patients. When that “pause” was eventually lifted, emails indicate that Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics imposed a quota, limiting the number of new transgender patients to three a month.
As part of a settlement the parties agreed to in July 2019, Swedish had six months to implement specific changes to its website to assist transgender patients in accessing healthcare at Swedish.
Now, almost a year after the implementation deadline, with the COVID-19 pandemic deepening health care disparities for transgender people, Swedish continues to ignore its promises.
“Swedish is openly disregarding the settlement agreement and, more urgently, the health and safety of transgender patients,” said ACLU-WA Staff Attorney Lisa Nowlin.
The settlement agreement required Swedish to provide easily accessible information about available transgender health services on its website as well as contact information for Swedish employees who will serve as a resource for transgender patients to navigate the health care system in critical clinics, including primary care, endocrinology, plastic surgery and gynecology.
Swedish was also required to update its website to include contact information for the Swedish Patient Rights/Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator and to provide the employees listed with transgender-specific training.
To date, Swedish has made almost no progress toward providing the critical services outlined in the settlement and has offered no reasonable explanation for its refusal to do so.
A 2016 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that discrimination by health care providers routinely causes transgender people to delay or forgo preventative and necessary medical care, putting them at greater risk for illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the isolation and difficulty accessing resources and care transgender people already experience.
“At a time when transgender people need safe access to health care, Swedish has neglected the concrete changes they agreed to put in place even before the pandemic,” Mr. Robbins said. “When Swedish fails to make health care for transgender people more accessible, they put lives at risk. Swedish must be held accountable.”
Individuals who are transgender and need assistance in accessing health care or handling an insurance denial, or who have experienced discrimination, are encouraged to contact QLaw Foundation of Washington, Gender Justice League, and Ingersoll Gender Center for resources and support.
The plaintiff is represented by Lisa Nowlin of the ACLU of Washington and McKean Evans of Ruiz & Smart Plaintiff Litigation PLLC.
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