St. Petersburg – A small but enthusiastic crowd attended an open forum at Edward White Hospital on March 26 to start a dialogue on how it can appropriate care for the area’s LGBT community.
Nurse and CEO Sharon Hayes welcomed guests and shared plans for renovations of the three decades-old hospital, but also directly discussed her vision of partnering with the LGBT community.
“We have a deep seeded belief in treating our patients with respect and dignity,” Hayes said. “Isn’t it sad that we even need to talk about that?”
Hayes was joined by Dr. Karen Monroe, attorney Cathy Blackburn and Chris Rudisill, director of LGBT Community Center services at Metro Wellness, on the panel.
“We learned about Red & Green [St. Pete Pride’s annual holiday fundraiser] and we attended it,” Hayes said, pointing out that she wasn’t in town for that particular celebration, but representatives of the hospital did attend. “I heard such wonderful things and excitement about getting involved in the LGBT community.”
Hayes did attend Taste of Pride at the Dali on March 15, she added, saying it gave her an opportunity to meet even more leaders in the LGBT community and invite them to discuss medical care issues pertinent to that segment of St. Petersburg.
“I’ve been here just over a year, and I remember opening up the paper after St. Pete Pride last year and thinking, ‘wow, look at all of those umbrellas!'” she laughed. “I was amazed at the strength of the LGBT community and we’ve had a chance to speak with Eric Skains of St. Pete Pride, who showed us the stats.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible. Gosh, we want to be a part of it,’” she continued. “It just feels so right and it’s the right path for us.”
Topics discussed included domestic partnerships, legal paperwork to ensure those rights such as power of attorney, and ideas on how to introduce Edward White Hospital to the LGBT community of St. Petersburg.
“I had the flu a few weeks back and I couldn’t have advocated for myself,” Blackburn shared, when expressing the importance of proper power of attorney paperwork. “It’s so important for us to partner with people who are close to us and have that protection, and have folks to help us through these tough times. It’s also a pleasure to have a health care provider and institution that’s so welcoming to our community. Happy about the future partnerships to develop after tonight.”
Rudisill, who has lived in St. Petersburg since 2009, shared his experience at Edward White when his partner was admitted there for minor surgery. The experience, he said, was wonderful, considering the circumstances, and he highlighted the respect he was treated as his partner’s caregiver.
“That’s why we want to continue to develop this relationship,” Rudisill said. “Medical care, especially for men, is difficult because we don’t always express what we want or need. The LGBT community as a whole isn’t always comfortable with medical services either. We are on a path to change that and let St. Petersburg’s LGBT community know that there is a hospital, right here, that wants to help us and respect us.”
That is no small undertaking for the hospital, Hayes admitted, sharing that she’s surprised at the number of people in St. Petersburg, gay or straight, who didn’t even know the hospital was open. She plans to change that through outreach and renovations at the facility, named after famed astronaut Edward White.
“We want you to know we are honored to partner with the community and to listen to your needs,” Hayes said. “This is a great beginning and we plan to continue developing and nurturing this relationship.”
For details and more information on the hospital, visit EdwardWhiteHospital.com.