Beyond Age Discrimination

Other Voices

Comments from Other Minnesotans Involved with Elder Care and Civil Rights

From the Rights Stuff Newsletter, July 2009

In a series of interviews, Minnesotans offer their perspectives and experiences on issues facing older Americans seeking care with dignity and respect for their individuality, cultural identity and human rights.

Comments from Other Voices

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Saeed Fahia, Executive Director, Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota

In addition to respecting the requirement for Muslims to pray, senior care providers need to be sensitive to cultural issues, including culturally appropriate gender roles, says Fahia. "I have at one time worked with one of the homes, what they were worried about was, there was an elder there, he was an older man—there was a Somali woman working there, and he didn’t want to deal with her at all. It was embarrassing for him."

Sherilyn Moe, Ombudsman specialist, Office of Ombudsman for Long Term Care

Although the Office of Ombudsman for Long Term Care has received few complaints about religious discrimination in nursing homes, the situation is likely to change as Minnesota’s increasing diverse population reaches the age when many may seek long term care, says Moe. "I think that now with various communities from the Middle East and North Africa, that will become more of an issue. I think it is going to bubble up."

Ethan Roberts, Director of Government Affairs Program, Twin Cities Jewish Community Relations Council

While some in the Muslim community may need to struggle to ensure that elders can obtain culturally appropriate care in nursing homes and other facilities, Jews rarely encounter religious discrimination in such settings. "I could see why it could be an issue for the Muslims as a newer community, with traditions which are maybe not well understood by the greater community," says Roberts. But older Jews typically find themselves in places such as Shalom Home in St. Paul that serve Kosher meals and otherwise provide for their Jewish residents’ spiritual needs. "I guess the bottom line is that there is no story here in terms of the Jewish community—that I’m aware of," Roberts declares. While anti-semitism still rears its head to affect young and old, "in the context of Jewish history, this is a pretty good time to be a Jew. And Minnesota is a really good place to be Jewish."

Joann Da Silva, Civil Rights Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Human Services

"I’ve been in this job for about 16 years and I can’t remember getting a complaint of discrimination against an older American," says Da Silva, who is responsible for civil rights investigations and complaints in Department of Human Services (DHS) programs." DHS and the Department of Health both have responsibility for nursing homes, but complaints about discrimination in such facilities, religious or otherwise, rarely come to DHS—last year the department received none. These days, the majority of complaints that Da Silva receives are in the "income maintenance" area—or what used to be called "welfare," she explains. "You’ve got, quite frankly, a lot of the average middle-class folks needing services, and not being eligible, because they still have too many assets and they have some income coming in. So people are quite desperate out there in terms of that."

Stella French, Director, Office of Health Facility Complaints, Minnesota Department of Health

In Minnesota, a Patient’s Bill of Rights enumerates a number of rights guaranteed to those in a variety of health care settings, including "the right to every consideration of your privacy, individuality and cultural identity related to your social, religious, and psychological wellbeing." If a Muslim were denied the opportunity to pray at appropriate times, that could be a violation of patients’ rights, and the Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC) could potentially investigate such a violation. But apparently, OHFC has never been called upon to do so. "We have not gotten any of those complaints here. They’ve never risen this far," says director French. OHFC typically deals with allegations of maltreatment such as abuse and neglect. "The nuances, the rights and that kind of stuff, are handled by the Ombudsman’s office."

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