Maybe it’s because I live in the New York metropolitan area, but it seems every nursing home I’ve worked in is filled with residents and staff from all over the world. I find it an exciting environment with the opportunity to learn about different cultures at every turn. Somehow, despite our differences, we make it work and provide top-notch care for our residents. Unless they’re gay. Or lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT). Then many LGBT residents, no matter what country they hail from, feel they need to go back into the closet and hide who they are from those caring for them. They fear the prejudice of staff members and rightly so, based on a number of conversations I’ve had with co-workers about the issue. According to The Aging and Health Report released by The National LGBT Health and Aging Center, 21% of LGBT seniors do not disclose their sexual or gender identity to their physician. Their physician.
If you’re looking for resources to address LGBT issues in LTC, consider showing your staff the award-winning hour-long documentary Gen Silent or using one of their training programs. I had the opportunity to view the film at the American Psychological Association conference last month and think it would make an excellent tool for addressing sexual diversity. Given the strong feelings many staff members have on homosexuality, a training program is likely to be more helpful than an open discussion of the issues. As a psychologist privy to the private concerns of residents, I can tell you that you do have LGBT residents within your facilities — you just might not know who they are.
8 thoughts on “Gay Seniors: Diversity Training for LTC Staff”
I’ve never even heard of this being a problem! Dr. Barbera I believe you’ve hit on something!!! What can be done to help these Seniors?
Thanks for your interest, Greg, and for taking the time to comment. It’s definitely a problem for LGBT seniors to find an environment where they feel comfortable and accepted, or at least tolerated as part of the overall diversity of the LTC community. What can be done depends on your role in the facility, but diversity training and setting a tone of acceptance is an important step that can be taken by those in an administrative position. On an individual basis, being consistently friendly would likely be appreciated by an LGBT senior just as it would be by anyone who might be different within a community.
If a recent discussion I’ve been a part of with several coworkers is any indication, a training program addressing LGBT issues is definitely in order. (Yes, even in New York City.) Only 21% do not disclose their sexual/ gender identity? I would think its much more.
Sue, good point about the percentage of LGBT seniors not revealing their sexual identity to their physicians. The 21% quoted includes (or may be exclusively) LGBT seniors in the community, where discussions with doctors are more private. In a long-term care setting, with information shared among the staff members, the number of LGBT residents keeping their sexual identity to themselves is probably significantly higher. Of the five LGBT residents I’m thinking of at the moment, only one of them was open about his sexual identity in the nursing home.
Saw the film and participated in discussion afterwards with the director. In my area (greater Boston, where the film was made) one issue that emerged was that some religions condemn homosexuality, and that care providers who are active adherents to some of those religions feel it is their obligation/duty to try to ‘convert’ the homosexual. While these folks have good intentions, the care recipient in a facility (or at home, with caregivers provided by an agency) is dependent on these providers, and often tries hard to hide their preference/relationships so as not to become victimized. A ‘going back into the closet’ for safety. Touch and sexuality can be so complex in a facility anyway. Staff training is a start, but changing attitudes takes time and leadership by example. Thanks for getting the word out about this film. I think it is good representation of what giving and receiving care can be like, no matter what your gender preference or relationship status.
Thanks for your perspective, Mary. I’ve had experiences in nursing homes where residents and staff have persistently tried to convert me to their religion. It was challenging to deflect it gracefully. It helped to know that their persistence was due to the fact that they liked me and that according to their religion, only those who practiced it would reach heaven. They were trying to save me from an afterlife in hell. There’s a big difference in coping with well-intentioned “saving” as a psychologist with stature in the facility and the ability to walk out the door every day, and residents having to negotiate unwelcome “saving” from the vulnerable position of needing care. It’s a good point you’re making, Mary, that staff training should include addressing how to manage religious beliefs in the context of providing care for LGBT residents and all residents.
LGBT Senior Home Care was founded to address the acute need for highly qualified in home caregivers who have undergone thorough diversity and sensitivity training specific to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. We meet this need by providing no cost referrals to approved LGBT trained in home caregivers as well as providing other valuable resources.
Our Mission is to provide no cost assistance and support to LGBT elders and their loved ones who want to age with PRIDE! by living independently in their own homes for as long as humanly possible.
I’m sure many readers will be glad to hear of this service, Chris. Thank you.