I am a 70-year-old openly gay male who has been living at Central Island Healthcare in Plainview, NY, for five years now. As we move through June, which is Gay Pride Month, I was hoping to share my personal experience as an openly gay nursing home resident.

Danny Ventrelli

Central Island is not my first nursing home experience. Several years ago, I was in a different facility which was a living hell. The building was run down, the equipment was not maintained, and the staff was unprofessional. The employees were nasty to me and others. Since I am an openly gay resident, I became the subject of much ridicule.

I thought I was saved when a family member offered to let me live with them and leave the nursing home. Little did I know that my relative’s family was severely homophobic. This hostile environment was toxic and certainly contributed to my rapidly deteriorating health.

Shortly thereafter, I developed pneumonia and became gravely ill. I was hospitalized for eight months straight. I was certain that I would die. Eventually, I was transferred to Plainview Hospital, where I received wonderful care. I rallied and rebounded there and my sister picked me up on the day of my discharge. I was so excited to return home. However, she drove me across the street to Central Island Healthcare instead. She explained to me that I could no longer live at home and now required skilled nursing care. I was so horrified at the thought that I nearly vomited right in their front lobby.

It took me about a full year to adapt and get over the initial shock of being admitted to another nursing home after my first rough experience. To my surprise, this place was completely different. The staff was nice, professional, and caring. The place was clean and smelled nice. The daily recreation programming was incredible. Even the food was good.

However, for my specific needs, this place has been exceptional. I was accepted for who I am from day one. No questions asked. No judgment passed. I have been free and feel safe to be an openly gay male nursing home resident without any fear of discrimination. I feel loved and cared for by the staff.

Things really took a positive turn when I was asked by ownership of the facility for my input in forming the Central Island Healthcare LGBT Program – the first of its kind for a nursing home on Long Island. They sincerely cared about creating a safe and nurturing environment for patients of all orientations. They presented me with statistics that showed how the overwhelming majority of gay nursing home patients across the country were afraid to come out publicly. They hoped to change that.

We worked together with the LGBT Network and their Senior Advocacy Program – called SAGE-LI – to set up visits to our openly gay residents. Central Island takes myself and fellow residents to SAGE-LI social events a couple of times a year as well. This all helps me feel like I am not alone and have the support and love of fellow gay seniors.

Central Island Healthcare also tailors quite a few of our resident activities to be gay-friendly. We had a huge celebration where I oversaw a booth in our front lobby to celebrate National Coming Out Day. The nursing home brought in the Long Island Gay Men’s Chorus, a cross-dressing Cher impersonator, as well as The Gloved One himself – Michael Jackson. This all brought much cheer and laughter to me and my fellow residents.

I am thankful for the administration at the facility. Central Island Healthcare’s executive director Michael Ostreicher did due diligence when introducing this program. He advises other healthcare professionals to take a deep look at the communities they serve and determine if there are minority groups within the community that may be underserved.

My advice to other nursing home executives is to learn about that population by reaching out to community and religious leaders as well as charitable and volunteer organizations. Work with them to develop a program to properly serve the cultural and religious needs of that community. Work with those leaders and organizations to educate your staff. Provide sensitivity training to ensure that your staff is ready to deal with all the particularities and complexities of different minority groups.

The goal is for patients and families of all race, age, creed, color, religion, sex, national origin, ethnicity or sexual orientation to feel 100% safe and secure without any fear of bullying or harassment. Before a referral, make sure that you are equipped to properly take care of each and every population within your community.

And, as it’s Pride Month, I just wanted to let my fellow seniors out there know that there are some really good healthcare facilities that understand us, care about us, and love us for who we are. I am happy to be living in such a place and I hope to assist other gay residents who come here get acclimated in their new environment.

Danny Ventrelli is a resident at Central Island Healthcare in Plainview, NY.