Awareness and Aging on the Suncoast 

Aging on the Suncoast” is a monthly half-hour show produced by Pinellas County Communications and the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, Inc. (AAAPP) that features subjects of interest to adults aged 60 and older. The December edition of the show focused on diversity issues affecting elder adults. With over four percent of American adults identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, the LGBT Elder Initiative was created to develop goals and objectives to better serve this community.

Val Palla, 60, appeared as one of the panelists on the show. With a background in hospital administration and a master’s degree in geriatric care management, Val was approached by the AAAPP to be part of a committee that had just been formed by the state of Florida to address how to better serve the LGBT community, and to take a look at the biases and discrimination at a county level. As a lesbian who recently married her partner of 33 years, Val was familiar with the issues of diversity and health care not only from the perspective of her medical background, but also through personal experience.

“In general, the elder LGBT population does not have the same support system that most folks have,” Val said. “We have the same ailments and infirmities as the general population, but due to the time period, adults in that age group had to keep their lifestyle private. There were no marriages and no children to help with care as the population aged.”

Biases have to be addressed by both the LGBT community and the agencies that provide their care. Health care workers may be unsure of how to treat elder LGBT patients and address their fears due to a lack of understanding and education. Even though there is less discrimination now than in the past, many elder LGBT patients may anticipate discrimination if they divulge their sexual orientation, such as the fear their partner may not be welcome to visit in a hospital or assisted-living setting.

“The AAAPP is working on a ‘tip sheet’ of items that companies and organizations can use to become more ‘gay friendly’ or inclusive,” said Helen King, coordinator of the LGBT Elder Initiative. “This is a neat thing that has helped me look at my own organization and what we are and are not doing that sends a message to the LGBT elder community.”

“Living as a lesbian, I try to represent myself and my community. I try to encourage the elder population to own up to who they are and have the courage to live their lives being who they are,” Val said. “It’s a better world now with less discrimination. We need to be proud of who we are and the lives we’ve lived.”

The episode can be viewed by clicking the link above, on Pinellas County Connection TV (Bright House channel 622, WOW! channel 18 and Verizon channel 44) or at Pinellas County’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/pcctv1.

For more information about the LGBT Elder Initiative, email Helen King at helen.king@aaapp.org. To learn more about services and resources for elders and the disabled, call the Helpline at 800-963-5337.

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