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Education program improving services for LGBTI seniors

Educating staff in the history and specific needs of older LGBTI people and engaging directly with the LGBTI community is supporting a leading aged care provider to offer more inclusive care.

The ACH Group’s Free To Be project, which was presented with a Better Practice award this month, aims to build a more accessible service for LGBTI seniors.

Since August 2013, over a third of the ACH workforce – some 730 staff – have participated in education and training which focuses on raising awareness of different sexualities and gender diversity.

The training includes guidance in inclusive language, and a background to the history of discrimination that has impacted older LGBTI people, such as the criminalisation and medicalisation of homosexuality.

Project officer Robyn Burton said helping staff understand some of the experiences that have historically faced older LGBTI people builds empathy and understanding in care.

“It’s about having a more detailed knowledge of why it may be that a same-sex couple is reticent to trust support workers who come into their home, or the impact for a same-sex attracted person in a residential care facility who feels that they can’t talk about a big part of their life – perhaps past partners – because they feel that they may receive a negative reaction from the staff or other residents,” she said.

The training also looks in specific detail at the needs of older transgender and intersex people, with a focus on personal care that allows people to remain dignified and respected as the gender that they identify with as they age.

Ms Burton said many staff had never thought about these issues before, and often prior to undertaking the training didn’t see it’s relevance, arguing they treated all residents equally.

“We’re hoping by the end of the training that they can identify that treating everybody the same is not actually acknowledging the depth of people’s experiences and a part of their identity that is core to them,” she said. “It’s about person-centred care, as well as really acknowledging and celebrating the diversity that people bring.”

The project has seen 80 per cent of participants report that they had comprehensive or excellent understanding of LGBTI history and cultural needs, up from 20 per cent prior to training.

Including the community is key

The Free To Be project is led by an internal steering group made up of staff from all levels of the organisation, as well an expert external advisory group, made up of researchers, older LGBTI people from the community and LGBTI-focused service providers.

Ms Burton said ongoing engagement with the LGBTI community was the most important factor for success in a project like this.

“This ensures that the project is heading in the right direction and that there is validity in what you are setting out to achieve,” she said “Older LGBTI people will see through tokenistic changes and will identify if an organisation is authentic in their desire to be LGBTI inclusive.”

In the development of the project, ACH Group interviewed 14 LGBTI older people about what they would want from aged care and what was important to them in ageing well, which was used to inform staff education sessions.

“For instance, we were told that one of the most important considerations about whether or not to access aged care is whether their partners would be acknowledged and respected by the aged care organisation. Based on this information, we emphasised to our staff members the need to acknowledge same-sex relationships, like you would heterosexual spouses,” said Ms Burton.

To strengthen the impact of Free to Be, an LGBTI Champions program has also been established. The champions, who act as a touch point for LGBTI knowledge and support within their workplace, have received an additional two days of in-depth training.

Ms Burton said one of the highlights of the champions’ training was a cultural walk around parts of Adelaide by local drag queen Dr Gertrude Glossip, who lived through the decriminalisation of homosexuality in South Australia and was able to offer staff firsthand experience of the LGBTI history in the city.

The ACH Group intends to apply for a Rainbow Tick for the Free To Be project at the end of this year.

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