LGBT Elder Initiative testimony to the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging on the 2016-2020 Area Plan on Aging

June 8th, 2016 by admin

The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) is mandated by the federal Older Americans Act (OAA) to “facilitate the area-wide development and implementation of a comprehensive, coordinated system for providing long-term care in home and community-based settings, in a manner responsive to the needs and preferences of older individuals and their family caregivers.” In fulfilling this mandate, PCA is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA) to produce an Area Plan for Aging Services every four years. The Plan is expected to outline how it will achieve these goals, develop greater capacities, and provide comprehensive and coordinated services systems while using available resources more efficiently.

Read the draft of the PCA Area Plan on Aging for 2016-2020 here.

Tuesday, June 7th
Philadelphia Corporation for Aging
642 N. Broad St., Philadelphia PA 19130

Good morning. My name is David Griffith. I am the Director of Programs and Outreach for the LGBT Elder Initiative. Thank you for the opportunity to share comments with you this morning on the draft of PCA’s Area Plan for 2016-2020, a draft that seems to be very sensible and comprehensive.

The LGBT Elder Initiative is committed to working to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults are able to develop the social, medical, emotional, and financial support structures needed to age successfully. To this end, we are working toward a vision of an aging services network where LGBT people can readily access services that are inclusive, welcoming, and culturally sensitive to matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.

We are very pleased to see that issues pertaining to sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status have been incorporated into this Plan. We do have a few suggestions to offer, but overall are in strong support of this Area Plan, specifically its commitment to improving access to services for diverse and underserved populations, including those who identify as LGBT and those living with HIV/AIDS.

We are grateful that PCA has demonstrated an understanding of many of the unique issues facing LGBT older adults, and have taken active steps to improve services and outreach to Philadelphia’s LGBT older adult populations.

The needs facing older members of our LGBT communities are significant. As you well know, the vast majority, upwards of 80% in some studies, of caregiving for older adults in the U.S. is provided by family members. LGBT people however, as a result of past definitions of marriage and family, are disproportionately likely to be single, childless, and living alone, leaving them with heightened reliance on community-based services.

Yet, LGBT elders frequently express concern over receiving services from the aging services network due to expectations of discrimination. Accordingly, LGBT older adults are less likely than heterosexuals to utilize senior centers, meal programs, and other services provided by AAAs. This reluctance to seek services in senior care settings further contributes to the high rates of social isolation that impact these communities.

PCA’s commitment to improving access to services for LGBT people is an important starting point. Continuing to build relationships with stakeholders, developing collaborations to better reach underserved populations, and empowering vulnerable communities are all necessary areas of focus. We have been fortunate in the past to have been a recipient of PCA’s Community Outreach Grant, an effective tool to help better reach underserved communities and connect higher-need individuals with resources and services. We hope that these funding streams can continue to be offered to organizations working in diverse and underserved communities, as a way to help fulfill the goals laid out in this Area Plan.

Similarly important though is looking at the LGBT inclusivity of the services being offered. Outreach is undoubtedly important, but connecting LGBT older adults to services will not be all that beneficial unless these services are able to effectively address the needs of this population. Connecting an LGBT elder with services at a senior center will only be useful when that center’s staff have the cultural competence to work with LGBT populations. Setting up an LGBT older adult with in-home support may not be helpful if these services open one up to being discriminated against in their own homes.

Further education within the aging services network about the needs of LGBT older adults and best practices for working with these communities is essential. We know that some of this work is already underway at PCA, but would like to see these efforts continue to grow and expand to the agencies contracted with by PCA, to the point that receiving PCA funds comes with the expectation of being LGBT culturally competent (or at least working towards this cultural competence).

I’d also like to comment on the issue of data collection. The Area Plan correctly points out that measuring the size of the LGBT population is difficult. The lack of data on sexual orientation and gender identity though goes beyond not having an accurate measure of the size of the population. It also means that little is known about how LGBT people are, or are not, accessing services. We don’t know how effective programs are, or are not, for LGBT people compared to the general population. Improving the ways that data on sexual orientation and gender identity is collected would be well aligned with the Area Plan’s strategy to use data collection and analysis to create a complete picture of who is being served by PCA programs and how they are meeting community needs.

The Plan also correctly notes that data collection on gender identity requires attention. Better data on transgender older adults will be helpful in identifying the size of this population and understanding their needs. More importantly, however, improving the ways that data on gender is collected can help to make agencies more inclusive. All too often, on intakes, surveys, and applications for services, transgender older adults are forced into either an “M” or “F” checkbox. Collecting data in this manner communicates quite a lot to someone who may identify as transgender, and in many cases can be a deterrent to accessing services altogether.

In closing though, I would like to again commend PCA for the inclusion of LGBT older adults in this Area Plan. We are thankful to have a AAA that understands the needs facing LGBT older adult communities and that is committed to improving access to services and quality of service for this population.

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