Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Widespread Neglect Of Gay Seniors In Health Care System

by Jean-Pierre O'Brien, Montreal Bureau

This report made news tonight. Here in Montreal.

(Montreal, Quebec) A new study shows that despite full equality rights and government funded health care in Canada LGBT seniors face a serious health threat from discrimination by health care workers and institutions.

The report is final part of a four year study on LGBT health in Canada by researchers at the the McGill University School of Social Work.

The study focused on gay and lesbian seniors in three of Canada's largest cities - Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax and followed 90 seniors and their caregivers.

The conclusions are likely to shock many Canadians who pride themselves on their liberal attitudes towards gays and on their government health care system.

In the report McGill researcher Shari Brotman said aging gays and lesbians who grew up prior to the era of gay liberation face considerable obstacles to proper health care.

"Many gay and lesbian elders who experienced the pervasive social stigma that existed prior to the advent of gay liberation movement maintain a sense of extreme caution with respect to whether or not societal attitudes have really changed," Brotman said at a news conference on Thursday.

The report also noted that the partners, children and friends who take care of them are also marginalized and discriminated against.

"In addition, partners, children and friends who provide unpaid support to gay and lesbian seniors are often also exposed to marginalization and discrimination by providers and contemporaries."

Although the staff at senior care homes may be accepting of gay and lesbians, other residents are often openly hostile toward open gay relationships in their midst.

Same-sex partners are afraid to visit during family visiting hours or on holidays, and they often shun any shows of affection once in care.

Brotman and her colleagues assessed a broad range of services in Canada to examine the role of health care and social services organizations towards gay and lesbian elders.

Developing resilience in the face of discrimination has helped many gay and lesbian seniors become experts in dealing with adversity, facing change, and learning how to take care of themselves said Brotman.

But this ability to cope has a downside, according to Brotman. Gays and lesbians have learned to adjust to loss and stigma so well that they may delay seeking medical attention. This means that older gays and lesbians may arrive at the doors of the health care system in a more advanced state of risk than their heterosexual counterparts, or not all.

© 2006


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