Social isolation can dramatically affect the overall health of people as they age. This is especially true of LGBT older people, who have smaller support networks. We tackled this problem in 2013 when we launched SAGE Story, a national digital storytelling and anti-isolation program for LGBT older people. Through workshops in six sites around the country, LGBT older people learned digital storytelling skills and connected to members of their community. SAGE also partnered with Freedom to Marry to collect the stories of elders about the damage caused by the absence of marriage equality. Finally, we partnered with The Moth to teach the performance of stories, leading one elder to take his romantic life story all the way to The Moth's national broadcast. Now that's a SAGE story.
A 2011 national survey found that fewer than 25 percent of LGBT older adults felt they could be openly LGBT in their long-term care facilities. In 2013, SAGE took this finding to heart and partnered with Jewish Home Lifecare (JHLC)—a 165-year-old nonprofit in New York City—to institute a multi-year, institution-wide training program that will ensure every staff member understands the concerns of LGBT residents. JHLC is also building a GREEN HOUSE® facility (""meaning that the focus, in design and operation, will be on dignity and autonomy for all residents in all things,""according to JHLC) comprised of 22 households, including one for LGBT residents. This vision started locally—but the promise is national. We should all enjoy the freedom to be ourselves, no matter where we age.
A tenet of patient-centered care is that it requires understanding a patient's full and distinct needs. Unfortunately, LGBT older people's realities are often overlooked because providers don't ask questions that identify them as LGBT people. SAGE began changing this trend in 2013 when we worked with the New York State Department of Health to ask LGBT questions in its statewide Uniform Assessment System. We also partnered with the New York State Office for the Aging to pose similar questions through their intake process. And because implementing these questions requires guidance, we released a data collection guide in 2013, which has been downloaded more than 36,000 times. Simply put: better data means better care. Now that's a healthy way of thinking.
Due to a lifetime of discrimination, many LGBT people age 50 and older face significant health challenges yet lack the necessary health coverage to manage these conditions. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) aims to improve health coverage for millions of Americans, including LGBT people, so in 2013 SAGE became a "Champion of Change" for the US Department of Health and Human Services, helping LGBT older people navigate the ACA's health insurance marketplaces. In October, SAGE launched an online health insurance action center with up-to-date resources and guidance on accessing insurance under the Marketplace. The result? New data shows that more than 7 million people signed up for health plans under ACA. Though much work remains, SAGE is proud to have played a role.
Since 2010, when SAGE received a historic federal grant to seed the country's first National Resource Center on LGBT Aging (NRC), we have supported the creation of more inclusive aging and long-term care environments. In 2013, this work multiplied. We trained more than 1,000 aging professionals on LGBT issues, and we reached more than 26,000 visitors with our online educational resources, including a new portal to reduce elder abuse among LGBT older people. most impressively, SAGE's NRC received its second federal grant from the Administration on Community Living at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—a vote of confidence on the NRC's distinct national value. As the population of LGBT older people doubles in size over the next few decades, the impact we're having will reveal itself—and the need for more training and resources will only increase.
At 84, Edie Windsor continued to pave the way for generations of LGBT people. In June 2013, her leadership and life story formed the basis of the Supreme Court case that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, opening up a range of federal benefits for married same-sex couples—a policy change that SAGE's federal program continues to develop as agencies struggle with the decision's implications. In 2013, SAGE supported Edie's case by filing an amicus brief with the National Senior Citizens Law Center, the American Society on Aging and more. And we hosted a panel discussion in DC on LGBT elders and marriage quality weeks before the decision. Edie's win is our win – showing the world that we can accomplish the extraordinary, regardless of our age.
Every day, we hear stories of LGBT older people who are transformed by the services and programs offered through our network of 26 local affiliates nationwide, SAGENet. In 2013, these affiliate offerings were stronger and larger than ever—hosting health fairs for LGBT people in their communities (SAGE Rhode Island); assessing housing needs among LGBT elders (SAGE affiliates in St. Louis, Rhode Island, Portland); screening the acclaimed documentary, GenSilent, to standing-room only crowds (SAGE Maine); innovating an LGBT cultural competence program for hospital workers (SAGE Western Pennsylvania); and engaging LGBT elders to craft heartfelt personal stories that educate the public on discrimination (SAGE affiliates in Raleigh and Wilmington, NC). SAGE coordinates this growing national network, building its capacity along the way—and in turn, affiliates reach an ever-growing population of LGBT elders—collectively, more than 6,000 per year.
Since 2010, SAGE's federal policy program has reshaped how leaders in DC understand our needs and priorities. In 2013, our partnership-based approach to advocacy yielded remarkable results. We successfully advocated for equal hospital and long-term care visitation rights for LGBT same-sex couples. We convinced the CDC to report HIV surveillance data in five-year increments across multiple risk categories for those age 55+ as a way of better tracking the epidemic's course. We briefed the Senate Special Committee on Aging on the distinct needs of older adults with HIV, a segment that represents nearly half of all people with HIV in the U.S. And we worked with members of Congress to advocate for LGBT inclusion in the Older Americans Act. Policy change takes time and can often be unpredictable, but we'll hold steadfast. And we'll continue to coordinate the conversations and the joint advocacy that will affect generations of LGBT older people.
One of SAGE's strategic plan mandates is to focus on the diverse needs of LGBT older adults, notably LGBT people who face additional barriers because of racial or gender-based discrimination (as two examples). In 2013, SAGE released a landmark policy report on the health needs of LGBT elders of color, offering concise recommendations in 10 policy areas, including HIV and aging, housing and more. We also grew our SAGE Harlem program for LGBT elders of color in New York City, and we landed op-eds and news stories on the distinct challenges of LGBT older people of color, shifting the mainstream media conversation in our favor. Finally, we continue to co-lead the highly visible Diverse Elders Coalition, which remains the most trustworthy source of advocacy and information regarding aging in communities of color and LGBT communities.