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Issues Facing LGBT Seniors

Issues Facing LGBT Seniors

“Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender older people who fought the first battles for equality now face so much fear of discrimination, bullying and abuse that many are hiding their lives to survive. Thousands are dying earlier than their straight counterparts because they are isolated and afraid to ask for help.” This quote was excerpted from the movie Gen Silent, a film by Stu Maddox.

We are now finding that as they age, LGBT seniors often go back into the closet or don’t seek needed services. This is because many health care organizations are not prepared to be accepting of and serve the LGBT senior population, and often have a lack of expertise about LGBT specific health and life challenges. This means that all too often LGBT people are facing health care decisions alone, or with an aging partner, and without professional support.

People may wait till the last possible moment to call in help to their home or to seek assistance at a senior living community. This comes out of fear, often based on experience, that staff or other residents or patients will discover they are LGBT, judge them, and not provide for their basic needs.

How can a person who lived for decades in a society where they were often discriminated against not be fearful during this vulnerable stage of life? How can we at Hebrew SeniorLife address this issue by delivering on our mission of caring for the most vulnerable members of society and best take care of LGBT elders when they need us most?

In answering these questions we have started to think differently and implement a number of new initiatives and programs. In consultation and collaboration with The Fenway LGBT Elder Project, we held a training last summer for 20 HSL staff from three of our campus teams and leadership. We then formed a Task Force, which is leading a longer term process with the Elder Project of organizational review, staff education, community change, and outreach to the LGBT community. Keshet, the Jewish organization working for LGBT inclusion, is another important partner in this work.  

We are committed to achieving a welcoming and informed health care environment that honors LGBT diversity, among our residents, patients and staff, and engages with people of all orientations to learn how we can best care for them and their friends and family in long-term chronic care programs, post-acute care, home care and hospice. In our independent living communities we are beginning a process of staff and resident engagement around these issues to ensure that we can offer hospitable and open hearted community and resident services. Our Chaplaincy Institute is designing a course on pastoral care of LGBT Elders, learning about the unique spiritual challenges of this population.  

What does this look like? It involves everything from developing nursing and nursing aid training materials, and creating forums for kitchen and housekeeping staff, to working on integrating awareness into every meeting and interaction we have. HSL has a long history of being a leader in caring for elders in their time of need. We are committed to opening our doors wide to the LGBT community, and know that we will become an even better organization in the process. 

Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow's picture

About the Blogger

Director of Spiritual Care

Sara Paasche-Orlow is the Director of Spiritual Care at Hebrew SeniorLife. In this position, she established the nation's only Jewish geriatric clinical pastoral education (CPE) program accredited by ACPE, Inc. and has placed chaplains and CPE students throughout the HSL system. Rabbi Sara was ordained in the Conservative Movement at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and has focused her work on serving Jews of all backgrounds and denominations.

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