Presenting PALS

Whitman-Walker Health and Mautner Project Partnering To Provide Support Services Targeting LGBT Seniors

Two local health organizations specializing in care to the LGBT community are partnering to bring specific services to LGBT seniors.

Whitman-Walker Health and Mautner Project: The National Lesbian Health Organization, are introducing a new program, People Advocating for LGBT Seniors (PALS), which will connect volunteers with elderly LGBT people living either independently or in assisted care facilities. Volunteers will be paired with elders, visit them, observe their living situations and help them access any community, health or government services they may need.

”The aim of the program is to increase the ability of seniors to age in their own homes in our community,” says Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Health. ”It could be something as simple as providing transportation, or sitting down and having a cup of coffee.”

Leslie Calman, executive director of Mautner Project, which has created an LGBT cultural competency curriculum for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, says Mautner has received requests for a program that would expand Mautner’s services for seniors.

Calman says that partnering with Whitman-Walker will expand the reach of the PALS program beyond Mautner’s usual clientele of women affected by cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.

Calman says Whitman-Walker’s reputation in the LGBT community, stemming primarily from its work with HIV-positive men over the years, and its ”high standards of care” as a community health center would help the PALS program reach more segments of the LGBT senior community, relative to Mautner working alone, and gain clients’ trust and support.

To be part of the PALS program, a person must be older than 55 and identify as a member of the LGBT community.

Volunteers for the program will be trained and supervised by professional staff from Whitman-Walker and Mautner. To qualify, volunteers make a commitment of at least six months and undergo a background check. Blanchon says PALS will initially be offered only to existing clients of Whitman-Walker or Mautner.

”We’ve had a long history of serving the LGBT community and providing needed services,” Blanchon says. ”We think this is in keeping with the history of Whitman-Walker.”

Alan Dinsmore, chair of SAGE Metro DC, welcomes the move, although his group already offers a very similar ”Friendly Visitor” program. SAGE Metro DC, the local affiliate of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE), evolved out of the Elder Think Tank at The Center, D.C.’s LGBT community center, and remains a part of the center.

”This issue of LGBT individuals who drop by the wayside, if you will, is so widespread that there’s room for everybody,” Dinsmore says of services targeting seniors. ”The more [volunteers] you have out there, the better off we’ll be.”

But others believe the new program will replicate services already provided, stretching community resources.

David Mariner, The Center’s executive director, says he is ”disappointed” that Whitman-Walker and Mautner are starting a similar program.

”In these challenging economic times, I question whether duplicating an existing service is really the best use of anyone’s resources,” Mariner wrote in a statement released to Metro Weekly.

Calman, however, says the number of LGBT seniors needing services makes it unlikely that PALS and the Friendly Visitor programs will find much overlap.

”I think Whitman-Walker and Mautner Project together bring things to the table that The DC Center, due to its staffing and limited resources, is unable to provide,” says Calman. ”That said, there are many elders in this community, and people can pick and choose which organizations they’ll go to for services. Our attitude is, ‘The more, the merrier.”’

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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