What life holds for us when we reach our golden years may just be a brighter future thanks to the work of a group of individuals who have developed a GLBTI resource for professionals in aged residential care.
Our way of life will always be unique – we have different needs, different wants. So it should be no surprise that even as we grow older these needs and wants will stay different from those of the heterosexual persuasion.
Unfortunately this is a reality that sometimes gets forgotten in aged residential care. So this is what a group of pioneering individuals are working hard to address. It’s poignantly captured in a short video entitled Chris’ Story, the centrepiece of the resource guide that has been made. It tells the story of a man in such a facility whose son, armed with an enduring power of attorney, halted the visits of his appointed carer. The story ends with a twist meant to prompt surprise and reflection, a realisation that true patient-centred care can only be achieved if there is openness and respect for the rights of GLBTI residents.
“There isn’t one particular story, but the resource is really in response to the invisibility of GLBTI people in aged care,” says Dr. Michal Boyd, the project’s leader and a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner and Senior Lecturer with the School of Nursing at the University of Auckland, who is heavily involved in research for aged residential care and the development of best-practice care guides. It seems most staff are unaware that there may be GLBTI residents in their care. It’s one of the key findings of the study that most aged-care professional will just assume their patient is straight. As Dr. Boyd simply puts it: “It’s out of sight, out of mind.”
In fact some excerpts from the study tell very moving tales of discrimination or silent suffering. One research subject related a story about a dying resident who asked to visit the grave of another man. It turns out that he wanted to visit the grave of his partner of thirty years, a relationship they kept secret because they felt their generation would never understand. Another subject tells of a resident who suffered discrimination from a co-resident who discovered that another man had a partner and was a homosexual. He loudly pointed him out as a ‘poofter’ and turned the other residents against him simply because of his sexual orientation.
How can we be sure that our loved ones will get proper care with the understanding of the needs of GLBTI residents? Dr. Boyd says it helps a lot if we promote awareness ourselves. “All staff of aged care facilities are taught the importance of ‘person-centred care’ and it helps the staff if they know who the person is and what is important to them. Many times people in aged care have cognitive impairment and it really does help the staff if loved ones tells them about the person’s life if they can’t do it for themselves.”
Other studies exist on the needs of the GLBTI elderly and other countries like Australia even have policies in place as a response to these findings. But the team took the wealth of knowledge available on aged care specific to GLBTI residents, enriched it with their own research in the New Zealand context and turned out a practical resource for aged-care professionals – a tool developed in response to research done by Gary Bellamy, formerly of the University of Auckland.
The project team includes stellar personalities from the academic and GLBTI community. Research collaborators include Stephen Neville and Jeff Adams of Massey University, Nigel George and Sonja Karon of Auckland DHB and Jan Wilson of Auckland University. The development team includes Lisa Williams as Project Manager with Claire Mooney and Jessica Buddendijk as resource writers, Mike Hurst for video production, Tatiana Tavares for graphic design and Richard Galloway.
“Our goal is to make the staff working in aged care aware that there are many different types of ‘families’ and encourage them not to make assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or partnerships,” says Dr. Boyd. “We hope that, by raising awareness for staff working in aged care, they will be able to be themselves and be respected for who they are.”
At this point, what the study and resource materials need is to reach the professionals and the facilities that would benefit from its education. Dr Boyd calls for our support in disseminating it. “We need to develop a distribution plan for the resource materials. We would also like to explore the possibility of a GLBTI liaison that facilities can access for education and support.” However none of the great work that’s gone into the resource thus far would have occurred without the help of rainbow charity The Rule Foundation, which has given $37,000 to date for the research and development of the resource. Dr Boys thanks them for their ongoing support along with the often voluntary efforts of all those mentioned above.
Hopefully, because of this resource, we can all look forward to a brighter future when we reach the end of the rainbow. With the support of the professionals for whom the materials have been crafted and ourselves as a community with a voice, we can inspire a change in attitude in aged residential care we all may need to take advantage of one day.
If you want your loved ones to benefit from this project, please inform their aged care providers of the resource materials. Gay Line has agreed to host the resource materials online at www.gayline.gen.nz.
Article | Louis Bretana. Photo | Yvonne Shearer.