Empath Health earns SAGE’s highest LGBTQ care credential

CLEARWATER, Fla. | Empath Health has earned the highest level of certification from the cultural competency training program developed by SAGE, the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders.

SAGECare exists to create inclusive LGBTQ health care. The program has now trained more than 87,000 industry workers in 48 states, offering four levels of certification: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

Credentials are awarded based off of the amount of time spent in training and the percentage of employees who complete in-person or web-based lessons. Empath Health attained SAGE’s platinum credential.

To achieve it, at least 80% of its 1,100 employees across its network of care were required to complete one hour of LGBTQ aging training. At least 80% of its executive staff had to complete four hours.

“Due to a lifetime of discrimination, LGBT older adults are more likely to hide who they are because they are afraid of mistreatment and isolation,” SAGE explains. “It shouldn’t be this way. Our training tells real stories about real people to make LGBT older adults familiar and human … They are people with careers, families, interests and problems – just like all of us.”

The certification is just the latest example of Empath Health’s commitment to Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ community. The nonprofit has supported patients facing chronic and advanced illnesses throughout the area since 1977, originally as Suncoast Hospice. Its members include Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), which formed in 2016 after the merger of the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas (ASAP) and Francis House.

Achieving SAGECare’s platinum credential was important to the organization’s leadership, which asserts it’s committed to the highest level of care for all of its patients, their caregivers and families. “We have a very strong focus here on cultural and lifestyle sensitivity,” Empath Health President and CEO Rafael J. Sciullo says.

“We actually reach out to a variety of different cultures and lifestyles recognizing that we’re all about inclusion here,” he continues. “That’s really fundamental in our values. That’s why we felt it was important for all employees to be a part of this and not just a certain segment or the management teams. It was important for us to try to reach the highest level to create that kind of sensitivity and outreach to diverse communities.”

Empath Health’s dedication to LGBTQ elders is also evident in the nonprofit’s many services, its Vice President of Innovation and Community Health Stacy Orloff adds. The organization formed EPIC Generations in late 2018 to respond to the challenges facing LGBTQ elders throughout Pinellas County, and recently created a new role to ensure its success.

“We have a 30-plus year history of serving the community,” Orloff explains. “Now we’re expanding our services to the LGBTQ community with this new position, a community support specialist, to offer more specific services.”

EPIC Generations’ first offering, the Friendly Caller Program, is designed to combat social isolation among LGBTQ elders. It seeks to foster multigenerational connections by providing social and service referrals to aging adults through regularly-scheduled phone calls.

“This is really in line with our SAGE certification,” Orloff says. “We’re very deliberate in the name EPIC Generations – we really believe that we are able to offer care throughout the age continuum.”

Sciullo agrees. “We are constantly committed and looking for ways to provide more care and more service and outreach to the LGBTQ community,” he says. “We will always seek ways to increase that because it’s in our roots.”

For more information about Empath Health or SAGE, visit EmpathHealth.org and SAGEUSA.org. For more information about EPIC Generations, visit MyEPIC.org/Generations.

This article originally appeared in Watermark on July 20, 2020.