Growing old, parting ways with your independence and having to move into a nursing home or assisted living facility seems like it would be difficult enough. Let alone, if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and feel unable to speak and act freely about your sexuality, for fear of bullying by other residents or mistreatment from nurses.
As we reported earlier this spring, more than 1 million Americans over the age of 65 identify as LGBT. And some 60% say they are worried that a long-term care facility would provide limited services, or refuse to care for them altogether, according to AARP.
We are halfway through June, which is also LGBT Pride Month. Folks will be celebrating Pride Fest this weekend in my home city of Chicago, and the annual Pride Parade on June 24, along Lake Michigan. Now seems like as good a time as any for providers to look inward and ask yourself: Is my nursing home doing enough to provide compassionate, inclusive care to its LGBT residents?
It seems, every time I start to convince myself that we have turned a corner in this regard — and that questions like this aren’t as necessary — you read another tale like this one, in JAMA. In it, health law and policy expert Julia Raifman shares how a transitioning transgender girl was repeatedly referred to by her former male name by one nurse. And, the Trump Administration has put a new office in place, the Health and Human Services’ Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which could intervene in this case, on behalf of that nurse. The office, she writes, accepts reports from healthcare pros who feel as if they had to participate in medical care that “violated their religious beliefs.” Raifman notes that LGBT stigma, especially from healthcare professionals, negatively impacts mental health for LGBT individuals, and can increase the risk of suicide.
Long-term care can do better, and thankfully, there are lots of resources out there to take your organization’s temperature and figure out how to move the needle in the right direction.
The American Assisted Living Nursing Association and National Center for Assisted Living, for one, are hosting a webinar titled “Talking the Talk: Having Difficult Conversation on LGBT-Related Topics” on Tuesday at 3 pm EST. In it, Tim Johnston, director of national projects with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) will explore topics, also relevant to the skilled nursing side, such as how to discuss a resident’s sexual behavior with family members, how to advocate for a resident’s right to express his or her gender in the manner of their choosing, and how to address instances of bias between community members.
Brookdale Senior Living — which has more than 1,000 communities in 46 states, including skilled nursing and those of the continuing care retirement variety — released this blog post, from Carol Cummings, RN, senior director of optimum life engagement. In it, she shares some helpful tips to “create a safe and inclusive” environment for LGBT seniors. Those tips include (1) presuming that your facility has such residents, (2) discussing sexuality in a safe and confidential manner with those who have decided to come out, and (3) creating an opening for LGBT residents to talk about their “family members of choice.”
SAGE also has its own trove of resources related to this topic, and just released the latest in a series of ads that aim to illustrate the harm caused to LGBT older adults, in the absence of nondiscrimination protections. It depicts a nursing home leader turning away a gay elderly man who is about to be admitted. In the news announcement for the latest advertisement, Patty Kuzia, Regional Director of Health services and Resident Programming at Watermark Retirement Communities in Tucson, AZ, urges her colleagues in the field to take a stance on this issue.
“LGBT elders have had a tough life — and may be fearful that if they are out they will not be treated with the care and respect they deserve,” Kuzia said. “We have an opportunity to educate our staff on LGBT issues so that LGBT elders can get the care they deserve. We should be purposeful in how we educate our associates and rethink how we can make a clear statement that discrimination of LGBT older adults will not be tolerated.”
Follow Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @mstempniak.