By Crystal Proxmire
Training has begun in southeast Michigan for healthcare professionals who work with the elderly and want to offer LGBT inclusive and welcoming services.
Natalie Pearce is the program manager at Social Services for the Area Agency on Aging 1-B in Southfield, which serves Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Washtenaw Counties. Since she began with the agency two years ago, Pearce has been pushing for gay-inclusive resources for the elderly that the agency serves.
“This work is my passion. It affects me personally, as a member of the LGBT community, as well as me as a social worker working towards empowerment and social justice,” said Pearce
Now, she is the first certified trainer through the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging working with Oakland Family Services. In a Jan. 6 training, she taught the first batch of healthcare providers how to give proper care to their older LGBT clients.
The four-hour introduction class teaches LGBT terminology, history and methods of inclusion for LGBT patients in an aging-care setting. Pearce is qualified to train on this issue from two perspectives. There are classes for elderly care providers who want to be more inclusive, and there are classes for LGBT service providers who need to learn more about the issues associated with aging.
Pearce said that the dos and don’ts of LGBT older adult care can’t be summed up quickly, but there are basics that care providers and observers in any situation can do to make patients feel safe and comfortable. “I could put it in a nutshell, I would say DO anything that includes people more; DO ask respectful questions, such as how someone would like to be referred to in terms of pronouns; DO speak up when people gay bash,” she said.
For some care facilities, LGBT care is a matter of simply being more aware and welcoming. But for others, prejudice and abuse may be an issue. “I also do work in the area of prevention and awareness regarding elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, which goes hand-and-hand with this work. These things are prevalent amongst our LGBT older adults’ experiences. Many folks feel forced to go back into the closet in order to feel safe in nursing homes and assisted living settings. Many LGBT folks have been denied treatment due to their LGBT status. We cannot sit by and watch as those who fought for our rights to come out of the closet fear being out of the closet themselves and lock themselves back in it. With exponential growth happening in the older adult population, it is essential we remain vigilant about human rights,” she said.
Kat LaTosch, one of the organizers for the LGBT Older Adult Coalition, was thrilled to see the first class take place. “By the end of the four hours, there wasn’t a single person in the room who wasn’t thinking about the ways in which to make their agency or practice more culturally appropriate for LGBT older adults,” LaTosch said.
The coalition is working towards bringing a SAGE chapter to Michigan, and offering a certification program for gay-friendly elder care facilities. The coalition’s work is funded through a grant from the HOPE fund and operated by the ACLU of Michigan. Affirmations Community Center is one of several location organizations participating in the coalition and helping in the coordination of the SAGE Chapter. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Kathleen LaTosch of Affirmations at 248-398-7105.
On April 17 and April 24 there will be training opportunities for Levels I and II for aging providers at the Area Agency on Aging 1-B. If care providers are interested in the April training, they should contact Natalie Pearce at email@example.com or Kristin Wilson, Program Manager/Training Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.