by Torie Dominguez and Lainey Millen, qnotes staff writers
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Both branches of Aldersgate — the Continuing Care Retirement Community and sibling Asbury Health & Rehabilitation — have earned top platinum status from SAGECare, the occupational education arm and consulting division of New York-based SAGE (Services & Advocacy for LGBTQ Elders), the senior community announced. The division, known as SAGECare, brings the expertise of its parent organization to entities directly concerned with eldercare, through specially developed training initiatives and inclusivity consultation.
While Aldersgate joins almost 300 senior care providers nationwide that have earned the designation for LGBTQ cultural competency, it now has the distinction of being the first continuing care retirement community on the East Coast.
“When we say Aldersgate is open to all, that means everybody,” said Suzanne Pugh, president and CEO. “Our mission calls us to honor the dignity of every individual, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any diversity dimension. Our mindset has always been to be intentional about inclusion, but it’s especially nice to have a seal of approval from a respected LGBT elder advocacy organization to let the world know: We walk our talk.”
Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Veronica Calderon added, “Building an inclusive community is part of our mission: ‘We honor elders and are committed to creating and fostering diverse, caring communities where everyone has a voice and value.’ No one should feel isolated or like they have to hide who they are. I am so proud to say to residents, prospects and the Charlotte community: All are welcome here.”
Separate from the SAGECare certification, Aldersgate, which is located at 3800 Shamrock Dr., will soon add six gender-neutral restrooms in its common areas. Although not mandated by SAGE, Aldersgate leaders feel it was one important way to signal that all are welcome inside the community.
Asked about the origins of Aldersgate’s current push for diversity and inclusion, similarly exemplified in its plan to establish half a dozen gender-neutral restrooms in common areas, Calderon explained: “About three years ago, the board and leadership of Aldersgate started having intentional conversations around the future of the organization and the growing diverse population in our city and nation.” She added that the community is two years into an ambitious five-year plan agreed upon by its board of directors with the aim of “fully embracing all dimensions of diversity including religion, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, disability, culture, socio-economic status, and other characteristics that make our community unique.”
To achieve SAGE’s most prestigious platinum certification, 80 percent of a service provider’s non-executive staff, including full- and part-time, must undergo one hour of LGBTQ aging training. In addition, 80 percent of the executive senior leadership must also take four hours of in-person LGBTQ elder training. The rank and file take part in one hour of training not required to be delivered in person.
Calderon was quick to respond to qnotes’ request for information on the nature of that instruction, which she says her organization made mandatory for every member of staff, including all new hires. She states that SAGECare training, led by Calderon herself, builds upon a SAGE-created video on cultural competence alongside interactive and group learning opportunities.
Since committing to this initiative, Calderon confirmed, “we have seen an enhancement in our internal culture. Due to the work we are doing to continue to build an inclusive community, our residents are opening up to us and sharing their life stories.”
To date, 92 percent of the Aldersgate staff has completed the SAGE training. Additionally, Aldersgate at Home, the community’s in-home caregiving service, has also received platinum status with 100 percent participation.
The platinum credential is valid for one year. Organizations must be re-credentialed each year to maintain their status. To date, 33,000 elder care employees have been trained in SAGECare.
Aldersgate has been caring for seniors since it began in 1943 as The Methodist Home. It is now strengthening its commitment to foster inclusivity by providing ongoing education to both staff and residents about how to create a better and more welcoming community for LGBTQ elders.
Recent studies indicate there are at least three million LGBTQ Americans 55 and older, and that number is expected to rise to seven million by 2030. According to SAGECare, LGBTQ elders are twice as likely to live alone as their straight counterparts and four times less likely to have children. So, while 80 percent of the general population relies on legal- or blood-related family for caregiving, LGBTQ elders must look elsewhere.
SAGE is celebrating its 40th anniversary during 2018. To learn more about Aldersgate, visit aldersgateccrc.com.