By Nicole Bruce
In June, we celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. With social justice at the core of Jewish values, CJE has a culture and history of diversity and inclusion. We strive to be a community healthcare provider as well as an employer of choice by “walking the talk” about these two initiatives. For CJE, diversity means not discriminating on any basis—whether it’s in our recruitment and hiring practices or in our program and service offerings—and being mindful of the differences that we all have. Inclusion is the active and intentional promotion of a supportive and respectful environment that increases the participation and contributions of diverse employees.
Clearly conveying this message is an important part of the process. CJE recently updated its inclusion statement to include sexual orientation and gender identity: “CJE SeniorLife strives to enhance the lives of older adults regardless of religion, sex, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.”
“We’ve always served folks from all faiths and diverse backgrounds, and pride ourselves on being welcoming and inclusive to everybody who walks through our doors,” said Sharon Dornberg-Lee, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor, CJE Counseling Services. “Updating our inclusion statement is a commitment to the time-honored Jewish values we’ve held as a health and human services agency.”
CJE SeniorLife has long been an advocate for LGBTQ individuals in the community and has worked to promote inclusion across the care spectrum. Experts predict that as many as 4.7 million LGBTQ older adults will be seeking care and services by the year 2030. They will be dealing with many of the same issues anyone does when choosing aging services: where to live as they age; how to meet rising housing, health care and medication costs; and how to stay connected to community, family and friends. Additionally, LGBTQ older adults face a unique set of challenges, and have many strengths and resiliencies.
“There’s an increasing awareness among service providers that as LGBTQ people age there’s a greater likelihood that they might go back into the closet, especially when they move into senior communities or nursing facilities,” said Dornberg-Lee. “CJE wants to be proactive. We want to do everything possible to educate our staff, make sure they are welcoming, and that our policies and practices are inclusive and supportive of diversity for people at every level of care in our facilities and in our community services.”
Over 20 years ago, CJE was a founding member of the Chicago Task Force on the LGBT Aging (now the Chicago Network on LGBT Aging). Since then, CJE SeniorLife has held many trainings and presentations on LGBTQ issues, and continues to do so with an upcoming community education programs like “Insights on Aging: Focus on LGBTQ Aging” on June 11 (see our calendar in this issue for more details). CJE also spearheaded an initiative within our independent housing buildings to heighten awareness and provide education to residents on LGBTQ and aging issues. In addition, we were among the first agencies in this area to provide training for frontline in-home workers. This commitment is reflected in our employment practices as well. CJE was a leader in offering equal benefits, such as health insurance and other benefits, to all couples, including same sex couples.
Earlier this year, CJE joined a cohort of Jewish organizations in the Chicago area that launched a year-long commitment to participate in the LGBTQ Keshet Leadership Project. Keshet is a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. As a participant in this program, CJE is evaluating current programs, policies and agency culture to find additional opportunities for LGBTQ inclusion and to create a welcoming and affirming environment for all.
“We want to continue the effort to be inclusive not only in the services we provide, but also as an employer. So we’ve developed a specific action plan that we’re in the process of implementing,” said Dornberg-Lee, who serves on this new committee alongside other CJE colleagues from CJE Counseling Services and Human Resources. “It’s a conscious effort to make sure we’re inclusive in a variety of ways. While we’ve long had inclusive practices and programming, there’s always work to be done in building knowledge, awareness and sensitivity around these types of issues.”
If you are an LGBTQ individual and thinking about counseling, our trained professionals are highly sensitive to and experienced with LGBTQ older adults’ issues. Contact Counseling Services at 773.508.1000 to make an appointment or visit www.cje.net/counseling for more information on our services.