A nationwide survey is being developed to evaluate long-term care communities on how equitably they treat their LGBTQ residents.
Two prominent advocacy groups —The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and SAGE —announced a “Long-Term Care Equality Index” at the American Society on Aging conference in New Orleans this week.
“All too often, LGBTQ elders do not receive the care and support they deserve,” HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement. “With experts predicting that as many as 4.7 million LGBTQ elders will be seeking care and services by the year 2030, the time to act is now.”
This June marks a half-century after the riots at Stonewall sparked the modern gay rights movement. While much has changed, seniors needing long-term care today came of age at a time when society was far less accepting of homosexuality and gender nonconformity. As they transition to senior living communities, many report they feel invisible or afraid once again.
A national survey of LGBTQ older adults in long-term care facilities found that just 22 percent of respondents felt they could be open about their identities with facility staff, and nearly 90 percent said they thought that staff would discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-three percent reported actual instances of mistreatment.
Allegations of discrimination in long-term care have surfaced in the courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in August ruled that landlords can be held liable under the Fair Housing Act for failing to protect residents from anti-LGBTQ abuse from other residents. The suit involves Marsha Wetzel, a woman who moved into a senior-living facility in Niles, Ill. after her same-sex partner died. She said in court records she was assaulted on three separate occasions by other residents based on her sexual orientation, and that she reported the incidents to staff but they did nothing to help her.
The long term care index is being modeled after the HRC Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index, which scores healthcare facilities on policies and practices designed to promote the equitable treatment and inclusion of LGBTQ patients, visitors and employees.
Tari Hanneman, a spokesperson for HRC, said organizations will opt in to the index voluntarily. Any kind of residential long term care community from independent living to hospice, is invited to participate. In the coming years, HRC and Sage plan to provide resources and training to help senior communities adopt more inclusive practices while they develop the new evaluation tool.
In the meantime, interested facilities are invited to sign a “Commitment to Caring” pledge.
Michael Alison Chandler is managing editor at MemoryWell. Previously, she was a staff writer at the Washington Post for 13 years.