ST. PETERSBURG | Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), a member of Empath Health, has formed EPIC Generations—a new coalition dedicated to serving LGBTQ elders throughout Pinellas County.
EPIC Generations stems from the nonprofit’s partnership with the St. Petersburg-based Project Generations Coalition, an alliance of over a dozen elder care advocates. It was formed by area resident Chris Almvig, one of the founding members of SAGE, the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders.“Chris approached EPIC and asked if we had any interest in hosting their advisory committee,” EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim recalls. “From the minute she walked in the door, her passion for this population and the need for services for LGBTQ elders was like nothing I’d ever seen.
“They were looking into writing a grant to create this elder LGBTQ program since there’s really not been anything like it in this area,” she continues. “It was a no-brainer for us.”
EPIC Generations was formed to educate the community and to respond to the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ elders. The organization says that many are invisible to mainstream society and even within their own LGBTQ communities—advising they’re less likely to receive support and assistance in meeting their financial, health and housing needs and are more likely to experience significant physical and mental disparities compared to non-minorities.
Susan Gore, who helped found the venture, stresses that the majority of LGBTQ seniors live alone, “unlike their heterosexual counterparts, most of whom have kids or family of other sorts. A lot of times queers don’t have family; don’t have kids, or if they do it’s not the closest of relationships.”
In health care, she adds, their needs are often not recognized and in some scenarios they’re actively discouraged. “It’s important to have culturally competent service providers,” Gore notes. “There are people who, even if they have good will, may not know how to respond or relate to someone who’s LGBTQ. Our health issues often go unmet.”
Winheim says that transparency was important when EPIC entered the partnership. “We wanted to make sure we stayed true to the vision of what this program is,” she advises. “This is their work and we want to take that and bring it to fruition. We felt very strongly about having this advisory committee and having one of those members sit on our board of directors.”
One of EPIC Generations’ first services will be to offer peer telephone reassurance. “We want to make sure those who feel isolated and lonely know that we’re here,” Winheim says. “If they need a ride to the doctor’s office or just someone to talk to, whatever it is, we’ll have a core group of volunteers ready to make those phone calls.”
The group will also offer a wide array of social activities for LGBTQ elders. “The problem of isolation is very real for elders of all sorts, and LGBTQ elders like to hang around with our own tribe,” Gore says. “It feels safer; more comfortable, we have more in common and stories to share.”
Cultural competency training for providers and community groups about the special needs of LGBTQ elders is also planned. “The basics,” Gore explains. “What kind of language do I use? How do I know what questions to ask? How do I become more comfortable if I see two women kissing or two men holding hands? These are basic questions for many of us, but still new turf for many in the service provision field.”
“Every single member of the community, LGBTQ or straight, at some point in their life will need home health, hospice, a nursing home, an assisted living facility or something that Empath Health offers,” Winheim says. “This is a great way to show the LGBTQ community that Empath Health cares about them.”
For more information about EPIC Generations, visit MyEPIC.org/Generations.