Finding an assisted living center is never an easy task, but it can be especially daunting for LGBTQ seniors who have been discriminated against because of their sexuality.
LGBT OutReach Community Center has recently started a relationship with McFarland Senior Outreach Services to offer services and provide resources to LGBTQ seniors over age 50 and their caregivers. The center will also hold training with McFarland officials Oct. 15.
“As social service professionals, McFarland Senior Outreach Services wants to provide culturally appropriate services to all seniors,” Senior Outreach Services director Lori Anderson said. “Over the years, we have worked with individuals and couples who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.”
Anderson said it is the department’s and seniors’ best interest to become more competent in serving LGBTQ individuals and develop relations with organizations that support them. She wants to open a dialogue in McFarland and receive training in culturally sensitive issues and concerns.
“We see this as a stepping stone to establish a more collaborative effort in serving LGBTQ+ seniors now and in the future,” Anderson said.
OutReach is located in Madison and offers services and meeting spaces for community groups, including groups for LGBTQ seniors. The senior group meets weekly at the center, as well as the Warner Park Senior Center and the Madison Senior Center. OutReach also offers quarterly dinners to help connect people to a community.
“Every week if a senior wants to get out of the house who’s LGBT, we have something for them,” OutReach senior advocate Ticia Kelsey said. “Either coffee or a meeting, because study after study does prove that being with your peers and being engaged is one of the things that help you want to stay alive, and that’s really important to us.”
Kelsey works to provide training for senior care centers and officials in Dane County.
OutReach has a program called “Am I Welcome Here?” for assisted living centers and skilled nursing homes. Kelsey and OutReach transgender health advocate Ginger Baier educate staff members about LGBTQ care. The facility agrees to provide LGBTQ resources and can put a flag in its window to let people know they are welcoming to LGBTQ seniors.
“I hope to get our seniors out and about and talking to each other and not sitting in the house, because if you’re not living, then you’re giving up,” Kelsey said. “And I truly believe that most people are not LGBT-phobic, that most people are undereducated.”
She said seniors may be less likely to reach out for help or go to an assisted living facility because of past discrimination.
“We have heard seniors say that they would rather die at home than to go to an assisted living center and have to go back in the closet,” Kelsey said.
Before HIPAA, doctors did not need to protect a patient’s identity and could inform their family and community they were LGBTQ. While HIPAA now protects individuals’ identities, Kelsey said past experiences “leave a scar.”
“LGBT seniors have less family around them and family who tends to take care of us when we get older,” she said.
In six months, OutReach has trained two senior care facilities and has three more on the waiting list. Kelsey hopes the program makes people feel welcome enough to come out by educating senior care centers and municipals.
“You never know what little thing might trigger someone to reach out for help, so that’s why we think education is important,” she said.
On Oct. 15, Kelsey will be conducting an LGBTQ training with the McFarland police department, fire department and other officials.
“Police officers have to go to cars now where the person that you’re looking at does not look like the person on the driver’s license, and they don’t even look like the sex of the person who’s on the driver’s license,” said Kelsey.
She hopes that knowing how to approach the situation beforehand will help de-escalate any tension.
OutReach is hosting a community picnic from 1-6 p.m. Sunday at Warner Park in Madison. There will be food vendors, music and information for seniors and others in the LGBTQ community.