What do Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ seniors need?

The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBT Affairs recommends best policies for older LGBTQ folks for state plan on aging

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Image courtesy Ravi Patel

Earlier this month, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBT Affairs Rafael Alvarez, along with co-chairs of the Aging Workgroup Joanne Carroll and Heshie Zinman, penned a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA) offering their recommendations for the 2020-2024 Pennsylvania State Plan on Aging. The recommendations highlight areas of need among older LGBTQ citizens. 

The Department of Aging will implement a comprehensive four-year plan that accounts for and includes recommendations from “targeted marginalized populations” amongst older Pennsylvanians. For the first time, said the Commission on LGBT Affairs, the LGBTQ community is one of those targeted groups. 

In 2018, the Wolf Administration, along with the Department of Aging, hosted the inaugural LGBTQ Aging Summit. This summit resulted in a plan to conduct a regional planning session with LGBTQ community leaders and a commitment to build lasting bridges between providers and the older LGBTQ community. 

“The 2018 LGBTQ Aging Summit was a historic event and demonstrated the commitment in the Commonwealth to improving services to LGBTQ older adults,” reads the letter. In February, the Commission on LGBT Affairs and the Aging Workgroup conducted a survey of over 400 LGBTQ service providers and consumers in Pennsylvania. Using this survey to inform their policy, the Commission made its recommendations to reflect an accurate picture of the aging LGBTQ population in Pennsylvania. 

“LGBTQ older adult respondents expressed great concern over being able to access LGBTQ-friendly resources and services,” said the Commission’s letter to the Department of Aging, “A strong majority indicated they would more readily access these services if they knew providers had completed LGBTQ cultural competence training. Providers also identified the need for greater training within the aging network to develop the knowledge and skills needed to more effectively serve LGBTQ older adults and individuals living with HIV. They reported wanting more resources that they could share with co-workers to improve their agencies, and resources to share with clients to help them connect to LGBTQ-friendly services. Providers and consumers both identified the need for non-discrimination protections, improved data collection, and greater support for LGBTQ people in the long-term care system.”

Based on these findings, the Commission on LGBT Affairs recommended several practices to enhance the Department of Aging’s goals. One PDA goal was to fortify the provider network for older Pennsylvanians and promote best practices. The Commission recommended that the state create and adopt guidance that ensures providers have LGBTQ-specific training. Another PDA goal listed “evidence-informed planning” for the aging population. Because there is a general lack of LGBTQ data, the Commission recommended that the state begin implementing initiatives to collect data. Part of this data collection will be enabled through Gov. Wolf’s recent initiative to include sexual orientation and gender identity questions in all state medical record-keeping.

According to a national study by SAGE in 2014,  44% of older LGBTQ folks are very interested in affordable, LGBTQ-inclusive housing and 78% reported that they are at least “somewhat interested”.  In accordance with PDA’s hopes to promote and support healthy living and a sense of community among aging citizens, the Commission suggested that the state partner with LGBTQ-inclusive and affordable housing solutions. 

Of particular concern to the aging population were protections for those living with HIV. The Commission on LGBT Affairs recommended to the state that it adopt a Long-Term Care Bill of Rights that would function as a kind of anti-discrimination law protecting older Pennsylvanians with HIV who are living in long-term care facilities. This bill was supported by 70% of the survey respondents. 

“We are excited to build on this great progress with the thorough inclusion of LGBTQ older adults and people living with HIV in the upcoming State Plan on Aging,” affirmed the Commission on LBGT Affairs, “This will be another historic step for the Commonwealth in its efforts to better meet the unique needs of LGBTQ older Pennsylvanians.”