By the end of this spring, the two largest employers in the Springfield metropolitan area — with more than 16,000 employees locally — will have extended benefits to same-sex spouses.
Legally-married same-sex couples have been able to enroll for benefits at Springfield-based nonprofit health system CoxHealth since October.
“Same-sex couples legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages are recognized as married for the purpose of health, dental, vision, retirement and flexible spending plan benefits at CoxHealth,” Media Relations Coordinator Michelle Leroux told the News-Leader Tuesday.
Mercy, meanwhile, plans to do so in the coming months.
“Mercy offers a comprehensive benefits package consistent with the markets we serve and the associated legal requirements,” Mercy Springfield spokeswoman Sonya Kullmann said in an email. “As a Catholic health ministry, Mercy has followed the Church’s position on this issue in the past. However, in line with recent changes in government regulations, we will extend benefits to all legally married spouses effective this spring.”
CoxHealth did not publicize the extension of benefits this fall, but statewide LGBT advocacy group PROMO mentioned it in a post on its website Tuesday. As part of its reporting, the News-Leader contacted Mercy regarding its policies; the nonprofit’s statement to the News-Leader is the first public mention of its plans.
Mercy had more than 9,000 employees in the Springfield metro area as of last spring,according to the Springfield Business Development Corporation, and more than 42,000 company-wide. CoxHealth employs about 7,900 in the metro area, and 10,800 company-wide.
Asked if she could provide a figure on how many employees have added a same-sex spouse to a benefit plan, Leroux said CoxHealth “doesn’t track that.” In addition to CoxHealth, other large area employers that extend benefits to same-sex spouses include Springfield Public Schools, Missouri State University and the State of Missouri. Meanwhile, a decision by the Ozark Fire Department board last summer not to add same-sex benefits led to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Andrew Shaughnessy, PROMO’s manager of public policy, told the News-Leader the group conducted a review of policies pertaining to LGBT individuals at Missouri hospitals in spring 2014 and selected 20 facilities — including ones operated by CoxHealth and Mercy — to approach in an effort to add protections. The organization provided assistance to CoxHealth, although Leroux said the nonprofit was working on the changes prior to PROMO’s involvement.
“We tried to empower these organizations to create these welcoming spaces,” Shaughnessy said.
Additionally, in April 2014, CoxHealth added sexual orientation and gender identity to separate employee and patient nondiscrimination policies, Leroux said.
“CoxHealth supports and promotes a patient and family centered approach to care,” she said. “Our non-discrimination policies for patients, visitors and employees provide a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment that contributes to improved quality of care for everyone.”
“As an LGBT employee and patient at CoxHealth, it means a lot to know that my family and I are now treated fairly,” Amanda Derham, an employee at CoxHealth, said in the post on PROMO’s website. “As one of the largest non-profit organizations and employers in the region, Cox is setting a great example for other businesses to follow!”
Kullmann said Mercy doesn’t have a specific policy related to patient nondiscrimination because “dignity, justice, service and hospitality are at the very core of Mercy’s values.” But the nonprofit does have an employee nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Mercy routinely updates policies to ensure they expressly represent our core values of dignity, justice, service and hospitality,” Kullmann said. “Our Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Policy was updated again in fall 2014, to expressly include sexual orientation and gender. However, that language existed in other policies prior to that date.
The results of PROMO’s review of health care facilities around the state can be found at actioncenter.promoonline.org/lgbt-inclusive-hospitals/.
The nondiscrimination policy changes come as the City of Springfield approaches an April municipal election in which voters will be asked whether to repeal an October expansion of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. City Council voted 6-3 in Octoberto add protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; opponents subsequently gathered enough signatures on a referendum petition to put the issue on the ballot.
According to a 2012 report by the Missouri Foundation for Health, LGBT individuals “experience poorer health outcomes than their heterosexual peers.”
“These poor outcomes are a result of differences in access to health coverage; limited availability of culturally competent health care services; absence of medical settings that are affirming and free of discrimination; scarcity of medical staff trained in LGBT health issues; health behaviors that do not foster good health; and social and economic systems that have not supported and protected minorities,” the report read.
Dr. Robert Saylor, director of Mercy’s ethics program, addressed a meeting of the city’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Task Force in June 2013. He said gay and transgender individuals have a perception of discrimination against them.
“There is a feeling that there is a limited availability of culturally competent health care services, there is an absence of medical settings that are not only affirming but free of discrimination, and there’s a scarcity of the medical staff that are trained to take care of LGBT situation,” Saylor said.
Does discrimination occur here?” he continued. “We’ve done no studies because it’s hard to poll the medical community. But in fact, I am ashamed to say it as a physician, that there is discrimination in Springfield towards health care. That, in and of itself, supersedes everything I just said about whether or not the perception is there.”