EP6 — Homophobia in elder care

Episode Description

This episode explores homophobia in elder care, and features several people, including Dale Mitchell from Ethos and the LGBT Aging Project; Rebekah Levit, the Executive Director of Rogerson House, who brought in training via the LBGT Aging Project to sensitize her staff to issues facing LGBT elders; and Laura Barr, who reflects on her concerns about how Jean may be treated as a lesbian living in a long-term care institution.

Guest Bio: Dale Mitchell

DaleDale Mitchell is the former Chief Executive Officer of Ethos, a Boston-based not-for-profit providing home and community-based care for the elderly and disabled since 1993. Before that he was an Assistant Administrator of the Boston Housing Authority; a legislative agent with a public interest lobbying firm, Meredith & Associates; and a policy analyst for the Mass. Social and Economic Opportunity Council. In 1978, he received a Master’s Degree from Boston College Graduate School of Social Work and, in 1973, a B.A. in English Literature from Indiana University. He has had extensive experience in community organizing, social services planning and delivery, and political action. He is the original author of the Poor People’s Budget and founder of AgeWell West Roxbury and the LGBT Aging Project, both of which have been named significant social innovations. He was featured in the award-winning documentary on LGBT aging, Gen Silent. He sits on numerous non-profit boards and advisory councils, including Mass. Home Care, Boston Eldercare Alliance, LGBT Aging Project, JP@Home, Boston Aging & Disability Resource Consortium and Disability Advocates Advancing Health Care Rights (DAAHR). Mr. Mitchell has lived in Jamaica Plain with his husband, David Imming, since 1981. Together they cook, garden, travel and strive to make the world a more just, sane and peaceful place.

Expanding affordable housing options for LGBTQ seniors…

In Episode 6, you’ll hear Dale Mitchell, founder of the LGBT Aging Project, reflect on his fears about needing help as an older gay man. 

I thought what would it be like for me to be unable to be fully independent and need the help of a professional stranger, coming into my home and then I started to get a knot in the pit of my stomach and I became concerned that this system, which is so beneficial for so many people, is a scary option for LGBTs..

Dale’s concerns propelled his activism around LGBT rights for elders. And he’s working on a number of fronts, as you can hear in Episode 6. This includes pushing for elder service providers to undergo training so that their staff is “LGBT-friendly”, as well as pushing for state legislation that would codify this practice. As the former CEO of Ethos, one of 26 Area Service Access Points (ASAPs) for elder care in Boston, Dale has seen enough to know that this intervention is necessary. 

If you scratch the surface of any older LGBT, you’ll hear the same thing. ‘I’m really scared about what’s going to happen to me if I’m alone and I can’t take care of myself.

Dale has also been involved in the planning and siting of elder housing for LGBT seniors in Boston. On November 9, 2019, Boston’s Mayor Walsh announced the first LGBTQ-supported housing development for seniors. Dale says,

Bullying of LGBT residents is a big problem in mainstream senior housing. Developments like this are a big step forward for improving the quality of life for LGBT elders.

At the same time, Dale says that we can’t build “LGBT friendly” housing for all LGBT elders. All mainstream aging services, including senior housing, must be made accessible to, and respectful of, LGBTs, he says.

In 2015, Sage USA launched its LGBT Senior Housing Initiative. There are currently 12 states that provide accessible housing for LGBT seniors, including New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Oregon, New Mexico and California. 

The City of Boston plans to complete its LGBTQ-supported housing in the next few years. They are siting this $33 million development at a former middle school in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood, with 74 apartments. All seniors ages 62 years and older will be welcome, but particularly those who identify as LGBTQ. According to a press release from the Mayor’s office, 16 of the 74 units will be affordable, including 8 for people experiencing homelessness or who require rental assistance, and another 8 that are “deeply affordable units”, for seniors making approximately $25,000 to $40,000 per year. The remaining units are tiered based on median income, with varying levels of affordability. Mayor Marty Walsh said in a press release,

As Boston’s residents continue to age, the need for safe, affordable housing that is welcoming to all remains essential…This new development will be an incredible asset to the neighborhood.

LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc. will co-own the space with the City, and will work with the developer, Pennrose Development, which has created another similar project for LGBTQ seniors in Philadelphia. Aileen Montour, the organization’s President, noted,

The primary concern of aging LGBT folks is where we are going to live that will be safe and welcoming, and where we don’t have to go back into the closet.

Rebekah Levit, the Executive Director of Rogerson House, believes this is an important first step for the LGBTQ+ community, not only in regard to housing, but more broadly regarding all aspects of life as an older adult. 

It says a lot about the work that those of us working with seniors that Pennrose is coming to fruition. Other communities will hopefully not only see the demand for LGBTQ+ housing options, but will see the areas in which they can improve and create inclusion within their own spaces.

Guest Bio: Rebekah Levit

RebekahRebekah Levit is the Executive Director of Rogerson House, the first Assisted Living community in Massachusetts dedicated exclusively to memory support. She is a social worker by training and has over 15 years of experience working in senior care, with a special focus on memory support. Rebekah has worked in various capacities with seniors, including Skilled Nursing, Independent Living and Assisted Living. In all her experiences, she has continued to grow her knowledge and professional skills to help seniors and their families have quality of life through the aging process. She is a certified Positive Approach to Dementia Care Coach and is the Co-Chair of the West Suburban Alzheimer’s Partnership. She is a passionate advocate for aging support services and an enthusiastic dementia educator.

Guest Bio: Laura Barr

Laura BarrLaura Barr is a long-time resident of Jamaica Plain, MA. She and her partner of 39 years, Jean O’Leary, have raised two amazing kids, Devin and Maddy, with the help of a wonderful community of friends/ Sadly, Jean was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2012, and Laura has spent the intervening years caring for her and trying to make the happiest life possible for both of them. Now that Jean is living in a skilled nursing facility, Laura continues to visit her regularly, and also takes short trips in her RV camper. She’s looking forward to retirement when she can hit the road with her adorable pup Panda.

Meeting the needs of
LGBT elders