By Craig Dresang, CEO, Yolo Hospice
Originally published in The Davis Enterprise
“We believe in the power of love and goodness.” It is a simple statement. And it happens to be Yolo Hospice’s motto.
Those nine words appear on the organization’s website, Facebook page, stationary, and communication materials. But most important, the motto appears daily in our care. It is a philosophical platform for how we care for our families and for how we connect with our communities.
Often, love and goodness can soothe pain or ease hurts that no amount of medicine can remedy. For families in crisis and facing the loss of a loved one, the meaning packed into our motto is a warm oasis in what can be a confusing and frightening time of life.
Because June is Gay Pride Month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarity between our belief in the power of love and goodness, and the unique spirit that members of the LGBT community carry into the world and into their celebrations . . . or into a nightclub in Orlando.
Our LGBT brothers and sisters have persevered through marginalization, discrimination, violence, and devastating loss, especially during the height of the AIDS epidemic. And still, it is a community that chooses to be marked by the power of love and goodness. This is where the hospice movement and LGBT movements intersect.
In similar, yet quite dissimilar, ways, hospice families also wrangle through fear, life-altering loss, and the prospect of a world markedly different than the one they knew before. Yet, time and time again, we see how acts of goodness and gestures of love – whether they come from family and friends, care providers, or the community – can redefine someone’s world.
A few years ago, a New York gay activist, Lou Rispoli, was brutally beaten and lay dying in a hospital bed. His husband said there was one thing for which he was profoundly grateful: that Lou did not die alone. As he took his last breath, his husband of 32 years was by his side, as were 30 close and loving friends.
Aging and death don’t discriminate. Often, LGBT seniors are afraid to access care. Sometimes they can encounter barriers to receiving the support they need and deserve. Grieving LGBT seniors are not always comfortable seeking support when a partner dies.
Unfortunately, too many LGBT seniors face or fear discrimination in their final days. That fear is often grounded in reality, and can result in those seniors receiving inferior care or feeling the need to cover up who they are and whom they love – referring to a spouse or partner as a friend or sibling, for instance. At the end of their life, many men and women go back into the closet for fear of being mistreated by healthcare and other professionals.
This means that many LGBT seniors at end of life are at risk of isolation and marginalization at the precise time they most need support. With the number of self-identified LGBT adults age 65 or older expected to double by 2030, from 1.5 million to 3 million, the time has never been more urgent to address this challenge.
According to a recent study conducted in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging, LGBT seniors are at greater risk of disability and mental distress than their heterosexual counterparts. Many face difficulty in accessing care, and more than 20 percent said they have not been transparent with their primary physician about their sexual orientation.
The study also notes that most lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender Americans aged 65 or older came of age at a time when homosexuality and gender variance were criminalized or dangerously stigmatized. About 82 percent said they had been victimized at least once because of their sexual orientation.
When an individual in the final days or months of life feels isolated or depressed, alienated from health services, and pressured to cover up his or her identity or support network, he or she may miss out on vital aspects of proper end-of-life care.
President Barack Obama stated in his proclamation for LGBT Pride Month 2016, “There remains much work to do to extend the promise of our country to every American, but because of the acts of courage of the millions who came out and spoke out to demand justice and of those who quietly toiled and pushed for progress, our Nation has made great strides in recognizing what these brave individuals long knew to be true in their hearts — that love is love . . .”
Many hospice providers, including Yolo Hospice, have taken steps to ensure that their staff and volunteers provide compassionate and inclusive care within the LGBT community. The power of love and goodness should not discriminate.