During Pride Month, I have realized the unique health challenges that face the LGBT elder population. But what most concerned me is the discrimination and accessibility LGBT elders face when seeking health care. Over the course of my nursing career, there has not been any formal training in cultural sensitivity to the LGBTQ and elder population. For this population experiencing medical conditions can create inequities in receiving needed medical care. Often LGBT elders find discrimination may not be intentional. But in some cases, it is intentional, when care is refused because of a patient’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Studies have shown that in the United States 50 percent of LGBTQ have experienced some form of healthcare discrimination.
The Center for Advocacy for the Rights; Interests of the Elderly (CARIE) addressed the issues facing LGBT elders by forming an LGBT Elder Initiative. The areas of concern to LGBT elders are physical health, emotional wellbeing, cultural competence of service staff, safe/affordable housing, and legal services. Since the inception of the LGBT Elder Initiative in 2010 supportive programs have been put in place. These include culturally competent housing, the development of an HIV and Aging community advisory committee, and the creation of free community programs that address aging in place and mental health.
Recently, some of our area’s health systems have created physician practices that provide care focused on the health needs of the LGBTQ community. According to Dr. Justin Schweitzer, a Medical Director for LGBTQ+ Health and Primary Care at Cooper Care Alliance, his advice for LGBTQ+ elders caregivers is to understand that their patients may have faced a lifetime of discrimination, therefore they might carry chronic minority distress that may make them apprehensive to seek medical care or disclose LGBTQ+ family and life partners as their support.
As a medical community, it is essential that we are sensitive to the cultural needs of our LGBTQ+ and elders. Education, awareness, and sensitivity training for medical providers will enhance the care of the LGBTQ+ and elder population.