Creating More Inclusive Assisted Living Communities for LGBT Older AdultsCU School of Medicine Jun 5, 2020
AURORA, Colo. – The Colorado Health Foundation has awarded a grant to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, in partnership with Dayspring Villa and Christian Living Communities, to create more inclusive assisted living communities for older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults.
Specifically, the goal of the project is to train and educate staff at six assisted living communities in Colorado to create a culture of equity inside assisted living communities. The first year of the project focuses on building awareness and visibility by developing a video titled, “Caring for All: Opening Hearts and Minds.” In partnership with SAGE National, a 40-year-old advocacy and service organization for LGBT Elders, the grantees will train up to 860 staff at six communities to create a compassionate, welcoming, and safe environment for all.
“The timing of this project couldn’t be more important,” said Carey Candrian PhD, principal investigator and co-director of the project and assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the CU School of Medicine. “As COVID-19 impacts more people, we’re hearing devastating stories of what’s happening to seniors -- particularly those living in assisted living.
“LGBT seniors are a group that was largely ignored before the spread of COVID-19. But the effect of social distancing on these seniors has been devastating. Less likely to be married, less likely to have kids, less likely to have family, and with three out of four going back into the closet in fear of stigma, they feared loneliness, they faced fears not about having their wishes honored, and they feared dying alone – long before the pandemic. With social distancing, it’s worse. That’s why we are so excited to do this work, at this moment.”
There are approximately 28,900 assisted living residences in the United States. In Colorado, there are 684 licensed assisted living residences that been a solution for millions of older adults when increased frailty makes remaining at home unmanageable. In their ideal form, assisted living settings provide a normalized environment with residential features and services designed to support privacy, autonomy, dignity, and individuality. There is growing concern that the same segments of the population facing barriers to quality and equitable housing and healthcare – like LGBT older adults – also lack equitable access to and poor experience in assisted living.
This work is addressing health inequities faced by the LGBT older adult population in assisted living. The LGBT community, which accounts for 10 million people and expected to double by 2030, has been identified by Healthy People 2020 as a national health priority because after encountering significant prejudice throughout their lives, LGBT individuals are known to encounter even more prejudice as they grow older.
The project aligns with The Colorado Health Foundation’s cornerstones: serving Coloradans who have historically had less power or privilege, working to create health equity, and finding solutions informed by the community. To achieve these cornerstones, The LGBT+ Friends Group at Dayspring Villa, the catalyst for this grant, generated a solution to these increasing health equities by describing in their own words what these cornerstones meant to them. Dr. Candrian and Ms. Stormie Foust, co-director and administrative coordinator at Dayspring Villa, met with the LGBT+ Friend group several times in writing the grant. A Dayspring Villa resident from the LGBT+ Friends group described the importance of an inclusive community: “It would mean it was OK to be myself,” “not afraid of judgment,” “being able to see inclusive photos and symbols on the walls,” “feeling respected by all,” and “not judged.” Another resident said, “there is a difference in saying you are inclusive and actually being inclusive. We are just as normal as everybody else.” In terms of health equity, one resident said: “Health doesn’t just mean equity in the physical sense, but it’s about equity in mental health too. Our situation being LGBT affects our health. And loneliness is a big part, a big problem.”
Christian Living Communities (CLC) is a Colorado-based, not-for-profit organization founded in 1972 by the Christian Reformed and Reformed Churches of America. An umbrella organization that owns and manages assisted living communities in Colorado, including Dayspring Villa. As one of the oldest senior living and care providers in Denver, CLC is at the forefront of pioneering approaches to aging. CLC is amongst the first in Denver metro area to offer assisted living, helping form what the service is today. Those approaches are informed through robust partnerships with organizations that include the Eden Alternative, which emphasizes that no matter how old someone is or what challenges they live with, life is about continuing to grow. The Eden Alternative is guided by the philosophy that the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom account for the bulk of suffering among our elder neighbors.