LGBTQ elders face ‘caregiving crisis’: Meet 2 women hoping to bring change

In mid-January 2021, Sue Van Zante-Peiser received a call from her friend Ed’s partner. Ed had been hospitalized and the hospital was trying to organize care, but it was tough. Ed’s partner is a decade older and faced his own health issues and Ed’s sister lived out of state. Van Zante-Peiser offered to help.

“The hospital did not reach out to Ed’s partner and they literally said to me, ‘Well, they’re not a married couple,’ and I don’t even know how they could be saying that in 2021,” Van Zante-Peiser, 55, of Seattle, told TODAY. “The hospital let me call every day and find out if Ed had been eating or if he was able to walk and how he was feeling.”

Sue Van Zante-Peiser met her friend Ed 25 years ago at work. He soon became like one of her family, which includes, wife, Mary, and son, Joshua. When Ed became sick Van Zante-Peiser helped him as a caregiver. Courtesy Sue Van Zante-Peiser

Ed had dementia and when he felt confused and scared, the nurses called Van Zante-Peiser or his sister.

“One of us would say something loving to him for a minute, which usually would calm him down,” she said.

But figuring out where Ed should go was difficult. Ed couldn’t return home but there weren’t any beds for him in a skilled nursing facility. What’s more, Van Zante-Peiser worried about finding a place that respected Ed.

“I would do a lot of advocacy behind the scenes,” she said. “I talked to him every day … Usually our conversations were five minutes or less. He was very confused. He didn’t know where he was. He sometimes thought that he was in prison or he would joyfully think he was at a writer’s conference.”

As time went on the hospital relied on Van Zante-Peiser more.

“They were very happy to have me involved while I was helping to support them,” she said.

Van Zante-Peiser is one of the many people in the LGBTQ community that find themselves as caregivers to friends. Nearly 21% of LGBTQ people provide care to elderly friends compared to only 6% of non-LGBTQ adults because, in part, LGBTQ elders are four times less likely to have children, according to Sage, a nonprofit dedicated to advocacy and services for older LGBTQ people. This leads to tremendous problems.

“Older LGBTQ folks are among some of the most vulnerable elders in our country,” Michael Adams, CEO of Sage told TODAY. “We live in a country where 85% of caregiving comes from adult children and partners. So when you remove adult children from the mix all together and there is a reduced presence of partners, by definition you’re creating a caregiving crisis.”

Caring for LGBTQ Elders

Van Zante-Peiser met Ed more than 25 years ago at work and they became close friends. When Van Zante-Peiser became pregnant with her son, Joshua, who is now 22, Ed transformed into “a grandpa figure.” He was kind and generous. When Joshua graduated from high school, Ed gladly sat in the football stadium stands, watching 500 students traipse across the stage. It was easy for her to say “yes” to helping him.

“Ed is someone who had given so much to me personally and to my family,” she said. “It was an honor.”


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