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Friday, January 14, 2011

The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging: A Lifeline for LGBT Seniors in Rural America

By Susan Isenberg -

Picture this, it’s Christmas Day 2010.  For some people, the only gift to open is their mind.  And that can be painful. Maybe Mrs. Fischer down the hall at the We Care nursing home is the lucky one.  She has a revolving door of visitors beyond her regular family visits … heads of state, royalty and her favorite visitor Bing Crosby.
Three rooms down from Mrs. Fischer is Tom’s room. The window to Tom’s mind is shut, for he dare not expose his bridled past. Tom was a pharmacist in this small Mississippi town – a damn good one. Visions of RX numbers dance in his head; he could rattle off half the town’s ailments … Evelyn Harris – arthritis, Rusty Simms – high blood pressure, Millie Williams – depression.
As well liked in the community as Tom was, he kept to himself most of the time and never married. When the time came and Tom could no longer live independently, the only eldercare facility in the area, We Care nursing home, was glad to take him. And why not, he served his country, he paid his taxes – good ole American values. But would We Care care for Tom if they knew whom he had loved?
We Care may be fictional, but as baby boomers age across our country, and in small towns in particular, there are many Toms and Millies living in physical and/or emotional isolation because of fear of ridicule or even bodily harm. SAGE, Service and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, in 2010 received an unprecedented grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a way to connect to people like Tom and the people who care for them. This lifeline to so many gay older adults is the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.
There is a paucity of information in this country on gay eldercare, and now staffs at countless “We Care’s” around the country will have access to information and receive training, vital to the health and well-being of thousands of gay patients.
I spoke with Hilary Meyer, Director of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging about this unrivaled gift to the LGBT senior community. I asked her how a nursing home in a rural location learns about this valuable resource and if they don’t find you, do you find them?  Or better yet, do they even want to be found?
The good news, Hilary said, is that a recent study titled “Ready To Serve,” conducted in partnership with SAGE, The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (among other groups), found that the majority of eldercare agencies who answered the survey (320 nationwide) said they were willing to be trained on LGBT issues; that is significant.
The access points are varied. First, the online process; the website is a work in progress that “runs the gamut, from technical assistance downloads to long-term planning information.” Secondly, are the Resource Center’s 10 National Partners and SAGE affiliate offices. And finally are the LGBT Community Centers, working with “CenterLink,” an organization linking all the centers countrywide.
Hilary wants us to understand that the website, very dynamic in nature, “is not intended to be just a clearinghouse of information, but a user-friendly, interactive, one-stop-shop, spanning several pertinent topics for both LGBT older adults and for caregivers and staff organizations.”
But what about those LGBT seniors that do not have access to a computer?  The goal, Hilary says, “is to reach the caregivers caring for the LGBT population that ARE able to access the services.”
We care and encourage you to care – be a part of the process, check out the website, make suggestions and share your stories. I bet we all know a Tom or Millie.


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