Long term care rights and sexual orientation

Research suggests that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders are disproportionately represented in long term care facilities because, compared to their heterosexual counterparts, LGBT elders are much less likely to have family members who can care for them at home. Yet it is rare for our staff ombudsmen to hear long term care residents identify themselves as LGBT. So I have to conclude that there is an invisible minority of older LGBT Alaskans who live in long term care facilities but don’t feel safe talking to ombudsmen about something which is deeply important to them.

That really concerns me because there is evidence nationally that LGBT residents are more likely than others to experience discrimination and poor treatment in long term care facilities.

So if you are an LGBT older Alaskan living in an assisted living or nursing home, here is my promise to you. If you call the Ombudsman for help, you will get that help and it will be respectful of your wishes and feelings. We won’t be disapproving and we can’t be shocked. We are ready and willing to advocate for your rights, protected under the law.

What are those rights? You have the right to be free from abuse and neglect. That means a facility staff person cannot refuse to provide care because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. No one can call you a derogatory name. No one—neither staff nor other residents–can threaten or harm you. You also have the right to privacy, including the right to private communication with anyone you choose.

Staff must also protect your privacy when they provide personal care. Probably the most frequent violation of the right to privacy occurs when staff gossip about residents. Staff do not have the right to share your medical or personal information without your consent.

You have the right to participate in and be informed about your care. You have the right to designate a legal decision-maker to act on your behalf if you are unable to make health care decisions. That person does not have to be related by blood, but can be a partner or friend so long as you have executed advance directives with a durable power of attorney for health care. You can download the form at http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Director/Documents/advancedirective.pdf.

You have the right to receive visitors of your choosing. You also have the right to participate in activities outside of the facility and to promote an event, training or resource regarding LGBT equality without fear of discrimination or abuse. You cannot be forced to participate in religious services. You cannot be involuntarily discharged for exercising your rights, nor can you be retaliated against.

Finally, you have the right to wear what you want, express yourself as you wish, be addressed by the name you prefer and receive care from the health care provider of your choice. No older Alaskan should have to live with discrimination, derogatory remarks or second class treatment.

Ombudsmen can be reached at 334-4480 in Anchorage, (800) 730-6393 statewide.

There are also wonderful support and education services provided to the LGBT community by Identity, Inc., 929-4528 in Anchorage, (888) 901-9876 statewide.

Diana Weber is the Alaska Long Term Care Ombudsman. Visit http://www.akoltco.org to find out more about how the Ombudsman protects the rights of seniors. The public can also submit complaints online via the website.

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