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Can Hospitals Be Sued for Insensitivity to Transgender Patients?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

When Kyler Prescott checked into the Gender Management Clinic at San Diego's Rady Children's Hospital, he was looking for help. The 14-year-old transgender boy was being bullied and harassed by teachers and peers regarding his gender identity, and was suffering from depression and anxiety.

But instead of receiving sensitive care for "suicidal ideation" and "serious self-inflicted lacerations," hospital staff repeatedly misgendered Kyler and actively denied requests that he be referred to as male. A month after his early release from Rady Children's, Kyler killed himself.

Transgender Mismanagement

Kyler's mother Katherine is now suing the hospital, claiming it misrepresented the capabilities of its Gender Management Clinic and that it violated the Affordable Care Act, which bans discrimination of transgender patients. Her lawsuit claims Kyler left the hospital feeling "shocked, angry, humiliated, anxious and depressed," just 24 hours into a 72-hour suicide hold.

When he was admitted to the hospital, Kyler's medical records identified him as a male. But his mother claims the staff at Rady Children's began treating her son as a girl, using feminine pronouns to address him, and encouraging others to do so as well. When Katherine and Kyler objected, their pleas were ignored. Katherine claims the charge nurse responsible for Kyler's ward blocked her phone number so she couldn't call the floor. And Kyler told his mother one hospital employee told him, "Honey, I would call you 'he,' but you're such a pretty girl."

"I don't call it malicious," Prescott told San Diego's KGTV. "I think it's a complete lack of understanding and training. If you say you are trained to take care of transgender youths, you need to be able to do that. And if you're unable to, it may have dire consequences."

Can't Afford to Discriminate

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits health care discrimination on the basis of gender identity. While the rule says specifically bars discrimination based on sex, it defines sex discrimination as that based on "pregnancy, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, or recovery therefrom, childbirth or related medical conditions, sex stereotyping, and gender identity."

As defined by the ACA, discrimination can include healthcare providers or facilities refusing to treat transgender patients, refusing to use their names and pronouns correctly, performing unnecessary or aggressive genital examinations, refusing to room patients according to their gender identity, or refusing to fill prescriptions for hormones.

Healthcare facilities need to be more sensitive to transgender patients, especially those offering specific services for transgender youth. If you've been the victim of healthcare discrimination, contact an experienced attorney in your area.

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