Racism in the Senior Living Industry: What Can You Do?
2020 has caused many changes in our society, but perhaps none quite as important as shining a spotlight on ingrained racism throughout communities, industries and society – and addressing it head-on.
For those of us in the senior living community, our challenge is twofold.
- Making communities more attractive, accepting and affordable for minority residents.
- Creating an atmosphere that is safe and welcoming to minority employees.
Surprise, surprise – meeting these two points is harder than it first appears.
We’ve all heard horror stories about racist behavior in our industry. Sadly, there is a percentage of our residents who come from an age where racist behavior was the norm, and that has spilled over into their treatment of care staff and team members.
Recently a judgement was handed down in the case of Edgewood Sartell vs. Jameisha Cox. Cox, a Black woman, reported racial harassment from a resident with whom she was required to work with. When Cox and other employees reported the racial harassment to Cox’s supervisor, the supervisor did nothing. Cox’s supervisor also repeatedly denied Cox’s requests to work with a different resident. In addition to permitting the racial harassment to occur, the senior living facility fired Cox because of her race.
This isn’t a new problem. In a 2011 article entitled “Racism Reported by Direct Care Workers in Long-Term Care Settings,” researchers interviewed care workers of color with regards to their experience with racism from residents, family members and other staff members. Interestingly, “…DCWs were likely to believe that remarks from residents/clients were not intended to hurt their feelings. Although DCWs heard fewer racial/ethnic remarks from family members or other staff, they were likely to believe that such remarks were intended to hurt their feelings.”
According to a 2018 report, there are over one million Black/African American direct care workers—one-third of the total direct care workforce. In another report from the same organization (PHI), it was reported that one in four home care workers (19 percent) is a Hispanic/Latina woman, while one in four home care workers (25 percent) is a Black/African-American woman. Overall, 59 percent of the direct care worker population is made up of minority workers.
Knowing this – and knowing that the minority and multicultural population of the United States overall will only continue to grow – how can we as senior living providers create a more welcoming, accepting and racism-free workplace for our employees? That’s the million dollar question we’re all trying to answer, isn’t it?
There isn’t a clear-cut, paint-by-numbers solution for eliminating racism and racial bias in our industries, particularly when it comes to matters dealing with residents and care staff. However, there are some concrete things that we as senior living providers can do to assist in making the workplace safe, comfortable and welcoming to our employees of color.
While racism from some residents cannot be changed (for example, if an individual who has dementia is lashing out at your employees of color), there are things you can do to address issues and minimize situations. For example:
- Create a safe space where staff of color feel comfortable bringing race-related issues to the attention of management. This may include hiring a minority leadership delegate or creating a brand-new “cultural sensitivity” role.
- Have your staff go through anti-racism training – there are many great resources available these days, from in-person training to online courses.
- Highlight anti-racism policies to new residents, family members and staff members so they understand procedures for handling policy violations, as well as making them aware of their rights
- Find ethical and appropriate ways to handle residents’ refusal of treatment from workers based on race or ethnic background. Meanwhile, be protective of your employees, and listen to them seriously when they report concerns or issues.
These are just a few of the many ways you can begin the conversation with your staff about how to address racism head-on in the industry. While there is not a quick solution for this issue, keeping an open mind, listening with intent and striving to make a positive change will do wonders in helping make your working environment a more nurturing, welcoming and inclusive place for everyone to be.
Campbell, Stephen. “Racial Disparities in the Direct Care Workforce: Spotlight on Black/African American Workers.” PHI 2018
It’s Time To Care: A Detailed Profile of America’s Direct Care Workforce. PHI, 2020.