Swedish Health to improve access to transgender services in settlement of ACLU-WA lawsuit

News Release: 
Thursday, July 18, 2019
Swedish Health Services has agreed to take steps to facilitate access for transgender patients to necessary and life-saving healthcare services. This settles a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Washington on behalf of Ari Robbins, who was wrongfully turned away from Swedish solely because he is transgender.

The ACLU-WA filed the lawsuit, Robbins v. Swedish Health Services, on behalf of Mr. Robbins, a Seattle man who is transgender. “Transgender” is a broad term for people whose gender identity, expression, or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Mr. Robbins’s health care provider referred him to a surgeon for chest reconstruction surgery at Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics—a specialty clinic operated by Swedish Health Services that provides plastic surgery services.

But Swedish canceled Mr. Robbins’ medically necessary 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 when that “pause” was eventually lifted Swedish imposed a quota, limiting the number of new transgender patients to three a month. Swedish never attempted to re-schedule Mr. Robbins’s surgery, and in fact, sent him back to his provider to be referred elsewhere.

“Washington state law prohibits discrimination against transgender people on the basis of their gender identity. The ACLU is committed to ensuring that transgender members of our community enjoy the same access to healthcare as all Washingtonians and we are pleased that Swedish has committed to lowering barriers to accessing healthcare from their providers,” said ACLU-WA Staff Attorney Lisa Nowlin.

The settlement agreement requires Swedish to provide easily accessible information about available transgender health services on its website, including contact information for Swedish employees who will serve as a resource for transgender patients to navigate the healthcare system and insurance requirements in critical clinics, including primary care, endocrinology, plastic surgery, and gynecology. The website will also include contact information for the Swedish Patient Rights/Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator.  The settlement requires that Swedish provide the employees listed with transgender-specific training.  

“When Swedish refused to treat me because I am transgender it hurt me deeply and disrupted my life,” Robbins said. “Unfortunately, similar stories are common among transgender and gender non-conforming folks. I was able to get help and do something about what happened to me. But many people are unable to respond when denied care. No one should be in that situation. No one should face barriers to accessing medically necessary health care because of their gender identity. I am glad that Swedish recognizes this and is taking steps to make health care more accessible for transgender people. I am hopeful that other providers will follow suit.”

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.

“For transgender patients, a lack of information about available health care creates harmful, unfair, and unnecessary barriers to accessing care,” said ACLU-WA Cooperating Attorney McKean J. Evans of Plaintiff Litigation Group, PLLC. “With this settlement, Swedish removes one of those barriers, and affirms the rights of transgender patients to obtain information and services that they need, and that their doctor has prescribed for them.”

If you are transgender and need assistance in accessing health care or handling an insurance denial, or if you have experienced discrimination, QLaw Foundation of Washington, Gender Justice League, and Ingersoll Gender Center can also provide resources and support.