The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) older adult community in PR is reflecting alarming rates of depression, trauma, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicide. The impact of the hurricanes in PR’s older adult has been extreme; from lack of access to medical care to food and water, from lack of social supports to mental health counseling. Lack of access has been a key problem for the LGBT older adult before the hurricane, and now after the hurricanes has been aggravated. It was reported in 2016, that one of every four habitants in PR are 59 or older; and after the hurricane it is estimated that this increased to two out of every four are 59 or older as more young individuals are migrating to continental US seeking financial stability.
Waves Ahead has provided help to the older LGBT adult for more than a year; we have been able to work collaboratively with local and national organizations in collecting data and implementing social programming. Since the hurricanes, we have been able to meet their needs by providing food, drinking water, tarps to cover their roofs, clothing, medications, and toiletries essentials. In addition, we have provided home-based services as we have encountered many home- and bed-bound LGBT elders living alone or with their ailing partners.
During these visits, and in our work with local mental health authorities like the Suicide Prevention Department and the Health Department, we have been able to note a high incidence of suicide attempts and deaths by suicide in the population of LGBT older adult, fifty-five and older. In addition, higher percentages of anxiety and depression. There is a discrepancy between the older adult and the LGBT older adult. Lack of access to a care provider that is not homophobic and instead LGBT supportive/inclusive is reported to be the number one problem among this population.
In a research study conducted locally in PR by us, data was compared from before the hurricanes and after the hurricanes. Although the needs are similar, there is a higher percentage of need for services and basic needs. The LGBT older adults reported problems in acquiring appropriate care, social supports, and medical and mental health care visits without homophobia/transphobia. More than 40% of those interviewed reported attempting suicide, having anxiety/panic attacks that brought them to self-mutilation, and social isolation. More than 55% reported not being out of the closet neither in their communities, with their physicians, nor with their family members. The data reflected the need for social activities, of an assisting living facility, welcoming and reaffirming spiritual groups, and inclusive and friendly health care practitioners.
The data will be presented as well as the strategic planning developed by community members alongside Waves Ahead and others local organizations. Interventions that are LGBT and Latino friendly and inclusive will be shared as well as the ways to utilize the community strengths to build upon training and services to better serve the LGBT older adult in PR and those of Puerto Rican descent.