Original Story with Video Clip from News-Press.com
I am often concerned when I think about what my “world” will look like in 20 years.
You should know that “my world,” as it is, consists of aging gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.
I am one of many “out and proud” gay physicians in our great country. It is my vocation to help my patients age the best way they can.
I am not naive, nor are most of my patients and those who love them. Our health care system is in a state of dangerous flux when it comes to caring for a populous that will double in number to more than 7 million in 20 years (70 million over the age of 65 total population, gay and straight and every stripe in between).
What, then, are the most crucial issues of our greying gay population?
We are, first and foremost, Americans, above and beyond anything else. We are proud military veterans, we live in all counties in the U.S.; we are the teachers, laborers, judges, politicians, doctors, lawyers, farmers and just plain folk that make up the beautiful fabric of America.
So when my patients ask me, “Doc, what will happen to me when I get old? Where will I go, and who will look after me?” I take their hand and at the very least let them know they won’t have to go there alone.
But before I could answer some simple questions, I realized I didn’t know half as much as I thought I did about the challenges facing older lesbian, gay and transgender persons.
A big issue that kept screaming at me during my research was “Social Isolation.”
In fact, older LGBT persons are twice as likely to live alone, twice as likely to be single in old age and four times less likely to have children.
Many of my patients are estranged from their biological families.
With Social Isolation comes self-neglect, depression, anxiety and a host of preventable morbidities for our elderly. One fix would be to gravitate to housing situations that are welcoming to us. Indeed this phenomenon is beginning to take form slowly but steadily in cities in the U.S.
Another important call to action should be to our clergy and church members that are of LGBT affirming denominations.
What about housing and culturally sensitive health care?
Will Mary and Alice, a loving lesbian couple in a 50-year relationship be able to stay together when they need to enter an Assisted Living Facility or Nursing Home? Will staff even recognize their love?
After navigating a lifetime of discrimination, prejudice and outright hate, will my older patients be told they now have to “go back into the closet” as they become dependent on caregivers they don’t know?
To my fellow physicians, I say, at the very least, be aware that roughly 10 percent of your patients are gay, lesbian and/or transgender. We don’t have to fail so miserably at addressing the needs of our older gay patients.
When we took that oath, yes, the one where we vowed to “do no harm,” did we pretend we could be selective about caring for one of the most vulnerable slices of our society? I don’t think the majority of my colleagues willfully disregard his or her LGBT patients. But how many of us ask who our patients really are? What makes up their world and who loves and cares for them? Who will call or stop by to check on our uniquely special patients when they become ill?
Finally, to my patients, I say the same things I have had said for years: Please eat better foods, don’t smoke, drink less alcohol, and try to get a hobby that takes you out of your house on a regular basis. Move more and laugh when you get the chance.
And, if possible, to the extent you can, live out loud, be counted. You’ve come too far to accept anything less than the best health care, housing and legal rights all Americans have come to expect.
The times they are a changing. Dr. Clint Potter, of Naples, is a veteran of LGBT medicine and a long-standing member of GLMA (Gay and Lesbian Medical Association).