Health and Wellness

Trans Army veteran rejected by multiple nursing homes almost couldn’t find help anywhere

Chris Pappas, SERVE Act, LGBTQ Veterans, VA benefits
Photo: Shutterstock

A U.S. Army veteran was rejected by dozens of long-term care facilities, with some even saying that she’s being denied care because she’s transgender.

When Lisa Oakley could no longer manage her diabetes on her own, she sought entrance into the long-term facility in her small town of Craig, Colorado.

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After that facility rejected her, she continued to seek other options but couldn’t find anywhere that would take her.

“When they found out I was transgender, a lot of facilities didn’t want me,” she told USA Today. “A lot of transgender people, I’m sure, face the same thing. We’re humans, just like everybody else.”

Oakley worked with social worker Cori Martin-Crawford to find a facility.

When Martin-Crawford began searching on Oakley’s behalf in 2020, many locations told her they weren’t accepting new residents due to COVID-19. But when COVID restrictions lifted, Oakley was still not admitted.

“It felt very clear to me that they were discriminating against Lisa,” Martin-Crawford told Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

Some facilities told Martin-Crawford she would only be allowed a private room, which her insurance didn’t cover. One told her to seek assistance in a more progressive area of the state.

Martin-Crawford’s notes reveal that the care facility in Craig, called Sandrock Ridge, said Oakley would need a private room “because she still has her ‘boy parts’ and cannot be placed with a woman.”

This all happened despite the fact that Colorado has implemented anti-LGBTQ discrimination protections in housing. Experts say facilities can easily work around those laws by naming alternative reasons to reject someone.

“These situations can be tricky, because technically nursing homes are not required to admit anyone and can refuse admission for a variety of reasons,” Carey Candrian, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and an expert in LGBTQ elder-care, said. “However, discrimination based on gender identity is not one of those reasons.”

Oakley ended up being admitted to a facility in Grand Junction, Colorado called Eagle Ridge of Grand Valley. Staff there have undergone LGBTQ sensitivity training and Oakley said she is receiving quality care.

“I have a saying that if you don’t take time to read the book and just judge a cover, you might miss a good story or a good friendship,” Oakley said. “I love all the staff down here. They love me.”

Nevertheless, Oakley is also three hours from her home town, isolated from those to whom she is closest.

Advocates say Oakley’s experience not only demonstrates the dire need to pass the Equality Act but also highlights the challenges that so many LGBTQ elders experience.

According to USA Today, LGBTQ elders are more likely to require institutional care than non-LGBTQ people. They are also less likely to have spouses, children, or other family members to support them through old age.

Meanwhile, long-term care facilities, as well as their residents, continue to discriminate against them.

“People have been denied access or treated with disrespect in long-term care facilities,” said Karen Fredriksen Goldsen, a University of Washington professor and LGBTQ health expert. “Others may refuse to call them by their correct names and pronouns. They may not have access to gender-neutral bathrooms, and staff may not know how to handle rooming them, so they end up isolated.”

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