INsite talks to Claire Mooney about the third phase of a research project focused on understanding and addressing homophobic attitudes in New Zealand’s aged care facilities.
Fifty years ago, when the current residents of New Zealand rest homes were in their thirties and forties, the word ‘gay’ didn’t mean what it does today. It is understandable that older people have held onto some of the stigma attached to homosexuality that existed in their younger years. But when such attitudes undermine the choices and happiness of other residents, and even influence those of aged care workers, it becomes apparent that such stigma and attitudes can’t be ignored.
This was ultimately what recent research led by The University of Auckland’s School of Nursing has discovered and aims to address. The research, entitled Silver Rainbow, is now in its third phase.
The first phase of the research, led by Dr Garry Bellamy, identified that while aged care workers themselves were generally accepting of older lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) residents, it was dealing with the attitudes of other residents that presented more of a challenge. However, the research also showed that staff may not be aware of their own prejudices regarding caring for LGB residents.
These findings led to phase II of the research project, which largely involved the development of a resource kit that contains a video, workbooks, and guidelines to help educate staff in aged care facilities about homophobia. The kit has been circulated within aged care networks in New Zealand and accompanied by presentations and meetings with senior older person’s health professionals in DHBs and the larger aged care providers.
Claire Mooney, Silver Rainbow project manager, says the resource has been very well received by audiences within the aged care sector and DHBs, with interest expressed from as far afield as Australia and the United States in using the resource.
Mooney says they are currently adapting the kit to include a second video with a scenario that deals with homophobic bullying amongst residents.
“This will guide staff on how to manage these situations and, indeed, clarifies that it is their responsibility to ensure that if they witness bullying of any kind they must take action to ensure vulnerable residents are protected and allowed to live free from discrimination.”
Mooney says it is difficult to measure in the scope of this project whether acceptance towards LGB residents is increasing, although she hints that a PhD student is planning to carry out research into this question, and will be looking for participating care homes to assist with this work.
For now, the Silver Rainbow team is focused on the next phase of the research, phase III, which is all about spreading the word that this resource exists and that there is a need for staff to receive education in caring for LGB residents in aged residential care.
To this end, the group is producing a pack that contains a printed sample of the education resources and a DVD with the two training scenario case studies that can be picked up by the care home educators and utilised according to their training schedules. The DVD will contain a self-led ‘train the trainer’ module so that the educators based in care homes can prepare and feel confident to present the material.
“In this phase, we plan to canvas the regulatory bodies and Ministry of Health to support a specific standard in the existing regulatory and certification process around this cultural group. We also have the cooperation and support of the Health Quality and Safety commission.”
The group is also working in collaboration with the Northern Regional Alliance (NRA) which has recently produced Cultural and Language Diversity (CALD) tools.
In fact, the NRA, along with Bupa, has provided sponsorship for a cultural diversity conference at The University of Auckland (Tamaki Campus) on 1 July this year. The conference, led by the Silver Rainbow research team, will address the acceptance of diversity in all its forms, beyond sexual orientation to ethnicity, disability, and other aspects of individuality.
“The conference celebrates cultural diversity beautifully. It is a truly person-centred philosophy we are showcasing,” says Mooney.
“Individuals may have a culture with many joint aspects and permutations. It is essential that we know how to honour and respect the totality of residents in aged residential care.”
Of course, it doesn’t all end after the conference. Pending funding, there is a wish to have a second conference further south. And further study in this area is on the cards with The University of Auckland PhD student Erica March planning to explore the perceived issues and implications for wellbeing of older adults in residential aged care who do not identify as heterosexual. March aims to interview 20 such older adults to investigate what concerns are held about moving into a care facility and how these are addressed. Among other questions, she aims to examine how the expression of sexual orientation of older adults has affected their wellbeing when living in residential aged care, and also what influence cultural differences and the perceived judgment of carers has on the participants.
March’s research is in its very early stages and will no doubt cast more light on a subject that has, until recent years, been largely neglected in New Zealand.
For Mooney, the pot of gold at the end of Silver Rainbow will be every residential care home in New Zealand having a copy of the resources and a willingness to use them.
“We hope that we can work on developing this resource into an online learning course. Above all, we hope to enlighten them that there are non-heterosexuals in this setting who are invisible and require recognition of their entire personhood.”
If you would like to participate or find out more information about Erica March’s research, please contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org