New LGBT Training on the Way for Elder Service Providers
By Diane C. Lade
The study, released last month, has prompted a new initiative: the Protect Our Elders campaign, aimed at addressing the issues that advocates say may keep LGBT seniors from seeking services like home health care, bereavement support and retirement housing.
SAGE USA, a national LGBT advocacy group, plans to start the POE program in South Florida this fall, partnering with local LGBT organizations to offer cultural competency training on how to properly treat elder gay and lesbian clients.
"Everyone keeps saying they want to offer patient-centered care. But to do that, you need to understand who the patient is," said Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders).
The UM Center on Aging's study and the training are being financed by Our Fund, a Wilton Manors-based nonprofit foundation that promotes programs benefiting the LGBT community.
Our Fund decided to study the issue after "getting a lot of feedback from our elders about lack of services specifically for our community," said the fund's CEO/President Anthony Timiraos.
Many gay and lesbian seniors mentioned situations where they had been mistreated or felt uncomfortable, Timiraos said.
Some said they were afraid to move into a retirement center and were "staying at home longer than they should," Timiraos said. "They didn't want to feel like they would have to go back in the closet if they went to independent or assisted living."
South Florida, with a high concentration of LGBT seniors, will have SAGE's first regional POE campaign. Adams said the organization plans to replicate it elsewhere if successful.
Local advocates estimate there may be 43,000 LGBT residents age 65 and older in the tri-county area.
UM researchers surveyed 48 agencies and facilities in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. While the majority involved care facilities or senior services, everything from churches to libraries were included.
The main reason those surveyed gave for the lack of LGBT competency training? "There was a lack of perceived need for the training, and it was not a priority within their organization," according to study investigators.
Of those surveyed, 83 percent said they would be willing to offer such training and felt their employees would be interested. Those agencies specifically serving older adults were the most receptive, with 92 percent saying they would host LGBT competency training. Health care agencies were among the least receptive, with only 67 percent saying they would host training.
POE plans to give introductory training at no charge to South Florida providers, with follow-up programs offered for a fee.
The campaign also intends to create a directory of gay-friendly senior care companies and residencies, from home health care agencies to retirement homes, by 2016.
Gilda Osborn, administrator of the Regents Park Boca Raton nursing home and rehabilitation center, understands why her very elderly LGBT residents, who grew up in a time when being gay could cost you your job, often don't reveal their sexual orientation.
"Nobody comes in and says, 'Hey, I am a gay geriatric patient,'" Osborn said. "People in their 80s or 90s often still are referring to their partners as their cousins or roommates."
While sexual orientation is mentioned in her staff residents' rights training, Osborn said there are no sessions dedicated to LGBT issues.
"I think it would be a positive step. You can never have too much sensitivity training," she said.
Local LGBT training aimed at aging services already exists in South Florida. SunServe in Wilton Manors and the Compass Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches both are involved with similar programs.
Timiraos said Our Fund decided to bring in SAGE, given that organization's national clout. SAGE also has a professionally evaluated cultural competency program, created in 2010 in conjunction with the federal Administration on Aging, Timiraos said.
Our Fund has raised $20,000 for POE and is seeking about $80,000 more to fully implement the program. Adams said SAGE plans to work with SunServe, Compass and The Pride Center, a Wilton Manors LGBT organization, on the campaign, although details aren't finalized.
SunServe has trained about 100 professionals through its program to date, said Executive Director Mark Ketcham, and is "eager to work with SAGE on developing services for the gay senior population." It will be important for training to concentrate on line-level staff, not just managers, "the ones who are giving the baths and cooking the meals," he said.
Project Visibility, started this year by the LGBT Aging Task Force in Palm Beach County, so far has offered training to four senior living facilities. Compass participates in the program.
Julie Seaver, the Compass center operations director, said gay and lesbian elders may face isolation, dwindling finances and loneliness as they age, just as all seniors do. But their fears may be heightened because they are more likely to not have children or be estranged from their families due to their lifestyle, and need extra protection, she said.
"They are worried that no one will be there for them when they are sick and old," Seaver said.
Timiraos hopes that as the POE Campaign evolves, the elder-care industry will see cultural competency as not just good for people but also good for business. Medicare reimbursements increasingly are being tied to quality care and consumer satisfaction.
"If we position this training as a marketing opportunity, we are hoping they will jump at the opportunity," he said.