University of Delaware
Karla Bell, co-chair of the University LGBT Caucus, speaks at the March 23 conference held at UD and Christiana Hospital's John H. Ammon Medical Education Center.

LGBT aging, care

Conference on LGBT aging, health care provides cultural competency perspective


9:03 a.m., March 27, 2015--In the documentary Gen Silent, a lesbian couple talks about a friend who “went back into the closet” after entering a nursing home. Openly gay before he fell ill, he began to fear harassment from orderlies and other seniors, and he stopped associating with other gay people.

“He was no longer the Bill we knew,” says one of the women.

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Bill ended up dying alone — a fate that is not unusual for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

On Monday, March 23, a conference focused on issues surrounding LGBT aging and health care attracted some 150 attendees to Christiana Hospital’s John H. Ammon Medical Education Center and the Health Sciences Complex on the University of Delaware’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. 

“The conference enabled health care providers to learn more about such concerns as access, HIV and AIDS, chronic conditions, mental health and isolation,” says Karla Bell, board-certified geriatric physical therapist, co-chair of the UD LGBT Caucus and board member of United Way Pride Council’s Delaware LGBT Health Equity Task Force.

“Many of the resources available are geared to the general public and fail to take into account the unique issues faced by people who are LGBT, including the fact that many do not have children or other family members to take care of them when they get older and the lifelong discrimination and stigma this age group has faced,” Bell says.

The goal of the two-part conference was to provide best practices for mature LGBT individuals across the health care continuum and to connect Delaware community resources to both health care providers and patients.

The event was co-sponsored by Christiana Care Health System, UD LGBT Caucus, and United Way of Delaware. Presenters and panelists included physicians, nurses, social workers and providers affiliated with a number of hospitals and community-based agencies.

Bell, who was part of the clinical resources panel at the morning session and moderated the afternoon session, highlighted the educational initiatives being undertaken for both health profession education curricula and translational education at the clinician levels within facilities and community agencies. 

“This educational venture is in its infancy for this health demographic, as data collection has been absent,” she says. “Gen Silent shows firsthand that many of the older LGBT people who fought for equality in the 1970s and ’80s are now hiding who they are to avoid discrimination, bullying and abuse. We all have to work together so that LGBT seniors don’t age in silence.”

“The documentary also pointed to the positive effect that the community can have in these circumstances, so we were delighted to have so many representatives from local clinics and agencies join us for the discussion,” she adds. “Community engagement and education for our health care providers is critical in closing the gap in the significant health disparities we have for the LGBT population.”

Article by Diane Kukich

Photos by Ambre Alexander Payne

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