Changing the Culture of Care for LGBT Elders

August 05, 2011
Kavan Peterson, Editor,

An Eden Alternative registered facility in Oakland, Calif., has launched a research-based cultural sensitivity initiative targeting the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elders receiving skilled nursing and long-term care, the Bay Area Reporter reportered this week.

Raising awareness of LGBT eldercare-related issues is an important challenge in the culture change movement. Recent surveys have found that a majority of LGBT older adults fear being openly gay in long-term care settings and as a result are among the most invisible and underserved aging populations in the nation.

Eden Alternative registered Salem Lutheran Home partnered with Lavender Seniors of the East Bay and the Center for Elders’ Independence to develop a needs assessment and cultural sensitivity training program to improve services and care for LGBT elders.

The project — Growing an LGBT Senior Service Community — was launched in February at Salem Lutheran Home. The Bay Area Reporter writes:

The assessment revealed positive results for LGBT seniors – for instance, it found that 94 percent of elders receiving care felt comfortable sharing in activities with LGBT people and thought agencies should be welcoming and inclusive – but also indicated the need for information and training, particularly around transgender issues.

“We interviewed staff at facilities in Alameda County and found that they don’t have an issue with LGBT people, but they lack knowledge,” said Lavender Seniors Executive Director Dan Ashbrook. “The majority of those interviewed didn’t know the proper terminology for referring to LGBT people, didn’t understand LGBT family structures, and what transgender means. They don’t know how to structure their services to be welcoming.”

Salem Lutheran Communities prides itself on the diversity of its community, Executive Director Gilbert Carrasco told the Bay Area Reporter. About half the residents are Lutheran but the community accepts residents of all faiths and has half a dozen openly LGBT residents, said Carrasco.

Founded as a single cottage in 1924, Salem Lutheran Home is a self-contained community in Oakland under the nonprofit Elder Care Alliance. As a registered Eden Alternative home, the community embraces Dr. Bill Thomas’ philosophy to combat “the three plagues” of old age: helplessness, loneliness and boredom, Carrasco said.

To this end, it features independent living in cottages and fully appointed apartments, landscaped grounds and gardens, a library, an interdenominational chapel, a resident art gallery, a volunteer-run country store and thrift shop, learning lectures, and pets, which residents are allowed to keep.
“Our idea is to create a habitat or biosphere as an alternative to the Garden of Eden, incorporating plants and animals as well as other humans,” Carrasco told the Bay Area Reporter during a tour of the property. “We want to dispel the myth that retirement means that your growth and development stop. This is a life worth living.”

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