Local Senior Living Communities Celebrate Inclusive Living

Three local senior living communities have earned SAGECare Platinum Certification from SAGE, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ+ and aging

For LGBT seniors, moving into a senior living community comes with a unique set of fears. According to SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), nearly half of all LGBT couples experience adverse treatment when seeking senior housing and more than a third of all seniors fear they will have to re-closet themselves once they move in.

Senior living provider Watermark Retirement Communities is hoping to change that. The organization is the first national senior living provider to pursue SAGECare Platinum Certification through SAGE at its more than 60 communities nationwide, including three in the Tampa Bay area – The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay in St. Petersburg, The Fountains at Lake Pointe Woods in Sarasota and The Watermark at Trinity in Pasco County.

“Watermark respects, honors and celebrates diversity in all forms and we are grateful to partner with SAGE providing training for all associates around Improving Aging Services for LGBT Older Adults,” said David Barnes, President and CEO of Watermark Retirement Communities. “Armed with greater knowledge, empathy and understanding, Watermark communities will be even more poised to serve our diverse communities, associates, families, friends and guests.”

Through the SAGECare, Watermark associates learn about the unique history and needs of LGBT seniors, hear personal stories and learn about the legal rights of their residents. SAGE – a national organization committed to a higher quality of life for LGBT seniors – also shares best practice for fostering a welcoming environment for residents.

“Learning about the history of inequality in our country has been one of the most unique and beneficial parts of this training,” said Suzanne Burtzlaff, Executive Director of The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, an independent, assisted living and memory care community in St. Petersburg. “It’s something that you know is there, but to hear about each instance that this generation has faced is truly eye opening.”

Considering that many of today’s seniors were born in the 1920s and ’30s, they have lived through decades of discrimination. From police raiding gay bars to the United States banning gay immigrants and the American Psychiatric Association listing homosexuality as a mental disorder and the AIDS epidemic. These events are areas SAGE hopes educate senior living associates about.

The training also teaches Watermark associates how to address the unique needs of LGBT seniors, from dealing with delicate privacy issues surrounding communication with family to coordinating with healthcare professionals on behalf of LGBT residents.

The latter is important considering that an estimated 20% of LGBT seniors avoid medical care out of fear of discrimination. For those residents whose primary caregiver is a friend or partner, this also requires recognition of powers of attorney and other legal issues.

SAGECare has also led Watermark to be a more inclusive employer, adding policies that address issues for employees in same-sex marriages or who are transgender.

“We are committed to being an inclusive home for both our residents and associates,” said David Schupack, Executive Director at The Watermark at Trinity, an independent, assisted living and memory care community in Pasco County. “Thanks to the SAGECare training, we can proudly say that we are one step closer to achieving that goal.”

About Watermark Retirement Communities®

Watermark creates extraordinary communities where people thrive. We believe aging is about renewal rather than retirement. Watermark communities are known for highly trained and caring associates, a lifestyle built on choice, fine amenities, integrative wellness and innovative programs including the award-winning Watermark University featuring a wide variety of engaging classes for residents and area seniors. Watermark has been named in the top 25 Best Workplaces for Aging Services in a national program conducted by the Great Place to Work Institute and published on Fortune.com. A privately held company with a reputation for over 30 years for service, innovation, integrity and financial stability, Watermark manages more than 60 retirement communities coast to coast. Based in Tucson AZ, Watermark is ranked as the nation’s 11th-leading senior housing operator by the American Seniors Housing Association. Visit watermarkcommunities.com for more information.

This article was originally published in Patch on June 3, 2021.