Senior care providers who receive funding from the state could be required to complete cultural competency training focused on sexual orientation and gender identity if a proposed bill passes.
The bill aims to help providers better understand LGBTQ topics and eliminate discrimination that LGBTQ people fear when finding care or housing.
LGBTQ people are fearful when they enter nursing homes, said Gordon Sauer, who leads the Jersey City chapter of SAGE, a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ seniors.
"They're thinking, 'OK, do I need to hide who I am? am I going to get discriminated against?' " Sauer said.
More than 60% of LGBTQ adults over 45 years old are concerned about long-term care facilities and possible neglect, abuse, harassment and limited LGBTQ-specific services, according to a 2018 AARP survey. Thirty-four percent of LGBTQ respondents and 54% of gende diverse respondents reported fearing they would need to hide their identity to access suitable housing.
Another study conducted by SAGE and the Equal Rights Center found 48% of older same-sex couples applying for senior housing experienced some form of discrimination.
Concerned about that, LGBTQ senior citizens who grew up before the LGBTQ rights movement era feel more comfortable calling their same sex partners terms like "roommate" or "special friend," said Tony Kudner, the vice president of communications and public affairs for Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care in Edison.
For this reason, among others, Kudner said LGBTQ people have "specific and nuanced" needs in nursing homes and end-of-life care that providers need to be aware of.
"As a hospice worker you have to be able to understand nuance and respect how [patients] want you to recognize and interact with their family," Kudner said. "We refer to them as their 'lavender family,' the people who they want around them."
Seasons staff went through training conducted by SAGE that coached providers through "navigating complex issues" LGBTQ elders experience, like identifying who their chosen family is, Kudner said.
If the bill passes, the state commissioner of human services would develop the cultural competency training, and could consult with groups like SAGE, which offers its own trainings to health care facilities. The organization's website lists 17 SAGE-certified senior care providers in New Jersey, including Seasons Hospice, a designation that signifies the providers received LGBTQ competency training.
Lawmakers' focus turned to addressing discrimination and equality after George Floyd's killing last May and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, said one of the bill's sponsors, Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, D-Burlington.
"It's on us as legislators to ensure seniors are well protected, and this includes training providers maybe need to treat [people] fairly," Murphy said. "Whoever you associate with should not be a factor of whether you get good care or not."
She said the bill will really come into play several years down the road when someone opens a new nursing home and it's already established that the staff will undergo cultural competency training.
The Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill in December. A second Assembly reading of the bill has not been scheduled.