| Jul 16, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - July 16, 2009 Rainbow Health Ontario bridging health care gap for vulnerable communityBy Jeff Green

Receiving necessary health care in a rural setting is a challenge at the best of times, and for people from vulnerable communities that challenge can be even greater.

Rainbow Health Care Ontario is an organization, based in Toronto, that does research and advocacy work into health care for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Community throughout the Province of Ontario.

While a lot of this work has been done in major centres such as Toronto, where the LGBT community is well organized, Rainbow Health has a presence throughout the province through outreach workers that work on a part-time basis in each of the 14 Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) zones in the province.

In the Southeast LHIN, which includes Kingston, Belleville, and Frontenac, Lanark and Lennox and Addington counties, that person is Godfrey-based Calvin Neufeld.

“Many health care providers are uncomfortable when caring for LGBT people,” Neufeld says, “and are uninformed about the specific health care issues of this community. LGBT people have often had negative experiences and may be reluctant to come out to their health care providers. Some avoid the health care system, especially for preventative care, resulting in later diagnoses and more serious conditions. Even in the case of timely health care, it is common for patients and their care providers to lack accurate knowledge about LGBT-specific health risks.”

Health problems such as substance abuse, tobacco use, sexual health, mental health issues, violence and safety, and nutrition fitness and weight, are all more common among LGBT people than the general population.

For example, according to the Rainbow Health Ontario website (rainbowhealthontario.ca) “while 16% of the Ontario population smokes, a 2007 Toronto study showed that 36% of LGBT people were current smokers”, resulting in a higher incident of smoking-related illnesses.

“Rural areas face unique challenges,” said Calvin Neufeld. “People often have to travel long distances to seek even the most basic medical attention. Doctors in rural areas may be less knowledgeable about LGBT-specific health issues than doctors in urban centres. And LGBT-specific resources are in short supply. It is not uncommon to see LGBT people in the South East LHIN travelling to Ottawa and Toronto for their health care needs.”

Neufeld notes that Queen's University has a positive impact as a “queer friendly presence in the region, as does the HIV-AIDS Regional Services (HARS)”, which has a presence in rural Frontenac County.

“But”, he said, “the challenges are complex. Service providers may require further education and training.”

For many rural health care providers, LGBT needs are not even on the health care map, unlike other concerns such as poverty-related health issues and high rates of Diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).

Through raising awareness of the need for services, and improving access to existing services, “Rainbow Health Ontario seeks to ensure that the unique health care needs of an already marginalized group of people will not be overlooked.”

People interested in Rainbow Health services are encouraged to contact lhin10 @rainbowhealth.ca 

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