On Saturday, the nursing home operator introduced the Rainbow Wing at one of its downtown Toronto facilities to address the need for dedicated space for LGBTQ2 seniors.
Rekai Centers opened a 25-seat wing at their Wellesley Central Place home. Residents, staff and community members gathered to celebrate the opening.
Barbara Michalik, executive director of community and academic partnerships at Rekai Centres, said she believes the space is the first in North America dedicated to the senior LGBTQ2 community, which stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gay and open-minded.” .”
“We have family members who may feel uncomfortable coming into a nursing home because of their gender or their lifestyle choices, and it is very important that we encourage this and encourage our community staff,” Michalik told CBC. News on Saturday.
“We can’t just stick a sticker on a door. We can’t just have one training session in the month of June for pride. It’s continuous. It’s a sense of culture when you come to this house. [and] safety. It’s really a constant reinforcement of hospitality.”
Rekai Centres, which describes itself as a non-profit charitable corporation, opened its doors over 70 years ago and currently operates two nursing homes in downtown Toronto: the Rekai Center on Sherbourne Place, home to 88 residents, and the Rekai Center. Center at Wellesley Central Place, home to 150 residents.
The Wellesley facility currently has 15 members who identify as part of the LGBTQ2 community, with over 20 percent of residents who self-identify as LGBTQ2 located in both downtown long-term care homes.
‘Older people often looked back’ during pride celebration
Barry Van Buskirk, resident of the Rekai Center at Sherbourne Place, said he was delighted to be present not only at the opening of the wing, but also to be able to participate in Pride.
“I think it’s very exciting. It’s very comforting and very loving,” Van Buskirk said.
“Older people are often looked at because they are considered too old to participate. I’ve been to many, many pride parades because I just love people. [and] I want to spread this love.”
In addition to the Wellesley Central Place wing, another wing of the Rainbow Wing will open at the new nursing home at Cherry Place, Cherry Street and Front Street, due to open in 2025.
Sue Graham-Nutter, CEO of Rekai Centres, said the new wing has been in the making for a long time.
“The launch of Rainbow Wing is the result of over a decade of work with the 2SLGBTQI+ community,” said Graham-Nutter.
“What makes us most proud and emotional is the hugs and tears that flow from our residents and families that just say, ‘I belong and I’ve been accepted here. Thanks”. Everyone needs a home where they are safe and loved.”
“They shouldn’t go back to the closet”
Sherwin Modest, chief executive of Pride Toronto, said he hopes to see more of these spaces in the future.
“The elderly are part of society, they have contributed, paid their taxes and should be able to enjoy their lives,” Modest said. “They shouldn’t be going back into the closet at retirement age.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory attended the opening event for the wing. He said the wing would allow people to be themselves.
“We benefit from people being able to be themselves,” Tory said.
Personnel to provide “culturally competent” care
In 2018, the Rekai Centers commissioned a market research firm to solicit community input through surveys and focus groups. The firm’s research was a key factor in the opening of the dedicated wing.
In the same year, a survey was conducted targeting people aged 50 and over who self-identify as LGBTQ2. The poll showed that 94 percent of respondents were in favor of opening the space.
According to the nonprofit, projections show that there are more than 65,000 people in Toronto who identify as part of the LGBT community over 65. That number is expected to rise as the population ages, the organization notes.
The focus groups highlighted the need for culturally sensitive employees who are allies or members of the community. They also stressed the need to review the admissions process to address the systemic barriers that persist in the health care system.
The Rekai Centers say the new wing will have staff that is “culturally competent” in helping residents, programs that meet residents’ needs, and a gender sexuality alliance that will provide a platform for residents, families, staff and community partners.
Michalik said staff should be well trained to make residents feel safe in the home.
“There is a sense of culture that locals need and feel, especially when they have dementia. Our staff needs an additional level of education,” she said.