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Memorial University medical school student looks at residential care for LGBTQ+ community

Rebecca Matthews is a second-year student in Memorial University's faculty of medicine. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Rebecca Matthews is a second-year student in Memorial University's faculty of medicine. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Previous studies outline concerns about discrimination, heteronormative environments

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

A second-year medical school student at Memorial University wants aging members of the LGBTQ+ community to tell her how they feel about the prospect of someday moving into a residential-care home.

Rebecca Matthews first came across the subject while completing her master's degree in aging and health at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. She was tasked with completing a literature review for the program and came across a document from an LGBTQ+ non-profit group in Vancouver, B.C., called QMUNITY outlining what older people from the local community had to say about residential care. Matthews was immediately intrigued by the topic and decided to delve deeper into it.

Through this research, Matthews discovered care concerns exist around the potential for discrimination, vulnerability, sexual-identity disclosure, and heterosexual norms and assumptions.

Matthews notes the current crop of aging members of the LGBTQ+ community grew up during a time when it was not as easy to be open about their sexual identity. Aging LGBTQ+ community members are less likely to have children than younger generations, and may be more socially isolated as they prepare to move into these facilities, she added.

Matthews suggests there will likely be fewer concerns of this nature among young people who are still several decades away from having to think about preparing to move into these facilities.

Common concerns

"Some difficulties or concerns that they may have about going into residential care would be experiencing discrimination from other residents," Matthews said. "The research that I did in a review of the literature demonstrated that older adults are afraid of covert and overt forms of discrimination. It's not always necessarily physical abuse because of their sexual orientation, but also just hearing comments or people saying slurs, talking badly about other queer people around, just having to hear those negative types of comments made about other LGBTQ people.

“Another would be the heteronormative nature of residential-care facilities. … It's often assumed that all residents are heterosexual. The intake forms and interviews, questions often aren't asked about sexual orientation, and any questions they do ask about relationships often assume that they're heterosexual."

Matthews said the literature would indicate these facilities need to be cognizant of making sure they are inclusive and find ways to celebrate diverse identities. While some of this research was based in Canada, much of it came from other places, so Matthews cannot be 100 per cent certain these sorts of issues exist in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, she does expect to find at least some common concerns amongst aging members of the LGBTQ+ community from the province.

"I'm going in there with an open mind and I'm really looking forward to hearing about how LGBTQ older adults living in Newfoundland are feeling as they age, and whether or not they are feeling supported and whether or not they do think that their quality of care will be queer-competent."

Inclusive actions

In 2012, Eastern Health's long-term care program set up a sexuality and diversity working group to look at how these facilities could become more welcoming and inclusive — it later became the long-term care diversity advisory committee.

Two years later, the regional health authority had a resource package and training program ready to roll out to facilities. With help from the committee, Eastern Health updated some policies to be more inclusive. For example, the definition of family was changed to reflect a person identified by the resident, thus accommodating people who are not blood relatives.

Pleasant View Towers in St. John's has been holding Pride Week celebrations annually since 2015.
Pleasant View Towers in St. John's has been holding Pride Week celebrations annually since 2015.

In 2015, Pleasant View Towers held its first Pride Week celebrations, and they have happened annually ever since. It has an LGBTQ+ diversity committee that works with staff to address cultural issues relevant to providing care and services for LGBTQ+ residents, and their partners and friends. Committee members are involved in planning events throughout the year.

"Members of the committee work to create a welcoming and safe environment for volunteers, staff and the community at large," Eastern Health told The Telegram in a statement.

A diversity and inclusion committee works broadly with staff at all Eastern Health facilities on projects such as an annual diversity and inclusion forum, a transgender health committee, training sessions focused on LGBTQ+ matters, Pride Week celebrations, and a new civility and respect campaign. The regional health authority is also a member of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion.

Matthews is currently recruiting interview subjects for her study. Anyone interested in speaking with her can send an email to rpm321@mun.ca.

andrew.robinson@thetelegram.com

@CBNAndrew

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