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Paul Blom
Published By Michele Fan on June 12, 2018

Minnesota-based Home Care Agency Owner Introduced LGBT Elder Care Training to Right at Home Network

A 2010 documentary film, “Gen Silent,” shed light on the challenges lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults face when they seek long-term healthcare. With concerns about their safety and quality of care, many LGBT elders must choose to hide their gender identity and/or sexual orientation; some even choose to “re-enter the closet” to survive in the healthcare system.

Around the same time “Gen Silent” came out, Paul Blom, owner of Right at Home Greater Twin Cities and a founding board member of Training to Serve, was part of a work group that surveyed a number of senior service providers in Minnesota, asking them, “Do you have any sense that there is a unique set of needs and barriers regarding the older LGBT community?” At the time, no one knew what they were talking about, so they asked again, “Would you be willing to learn more?” This time, the answer was positive.

The survey eventually led to the creation of Training to Serve, a nonprofit organization in Minnesota that “provides education, tools and resources to improve the quality of life of LGBT people as they age,” as well as a training curriculum on LGBT elder care.

Gay and Gray: Working With LGBT Older Adults

“Gay and Gray: Working With LGBT Older Adults” is a one-hour training curriculum designed by Training to Serve. In April, it was added to Right at Home University, an online professional care education platform for caregivers and staff members of Right at Home. Any caregivers from Right at Home can access the module to learn more about sensitive care for LGBT seniors.

“As an organization, we want the LGBT elders to see us as a welcoming place,” says Blom. “The training is not about how to take care of someone differently, it’s about understanding what makes older LGBT folks feel the way they feel and how we can help them feel comfortable. We want to help them seek the help that they need.”

The curriculum explains the concepts of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression, and it dispels LGBT stereotypes and offers ideas to people who receive the training on how they can support welcoming services for LGBT older adults. Blom said that about 70 percent of the caregivers working in his office have completed the training; his office currently serves LGBT elders.

Training aside, Blom believes that communication is vital to providing the best care. Blom and his husband Bob, the other owner of Right at Home Greater Twin Cities, are both involved in the care coordination of their clients; Blom says that makes it easier to open the conversation with their clients on whether they are a part of the LGBT community.

Blom thinks it is important for caregivers and their clients to create an authentic relationship, which includes sharing information with a caregiver at the level the client is comfortable with. As an example, caregivers may not know that a client’s “roommate” is in fact his/her partner, and Blom makes sure he talks to the caregivers before they start so there are no surprises.

“It’s also not just about the LGBT elders—it’s about their children, too,” Blom adds. “We provide care for an elderly woman who’s in her 90s with dementia. She lives with her son and his husband. There’s sensitivity around that that you need to have. Even though their mom is not LGBT, there is the fear that their mom may not be well taken care of because they are.”

Continual Education on LGBT Elder Care and Advocacy

Besides making the LGBT elder care training module available to the greater Right at Home system, Blom continues to facilitate the training in his local community and nationally through Training to Serve. “Since 2010, we have trained over 10,000 senior service providers,” says Blom. “We had a benefit event called ‘Land of 10,000 Trained’ in May (to celebrate).”

The curriculum started out as a four-hour program, but a more condensed, one-hour version was developed later to meet the time constraints of frontline care staff. Blom and his team typically give the four-hour training to management staff, so they can support everyone else better. Other members in an organization, like direct care staff, nutritionists, maintenance staff and administrative staff in a nursing home, receive the one-hour training.

Blom says, “Whenever I start a training session, I always say, ‘I’m not here to change your spiritual belief, your moral belief around sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that your organization’s mission is to improve the quality of life for the people you serve. And you already serve people who identify as LGB and/or T. So, if you can help them feel more comfortable, you can provide them a better plan of care.’”

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