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New SAGE Center Honors Elders


Black Pride New York City honored its Elders on August 16th, 2012 at the new Sage Center on 305 7th Avenue.

The  assembly of speakers came for across the city to honor the LGBT POC Elder community.  Over 75 seniors came to­gether for an evening of community, live entertainment and lunch, all generously donated.

A special tribute was paid to GRIOT Circle and its executive director, Glen-Michael Francis, who was also the keynote speaker. Glen spoke about community and the work that went into creating the Sage Innovative Center, the first city-funded LGBT Center in New York City. 

Glen also spoke to why this community center belongs to all of us, and why we as people of color should come and enjoy the activities, make sug­gestions to create programs and services that are reflective of our values and traditions, bring friends and take computer classes

Alyce Emory, the evening’s MC and program coordina­tor, said, “I am humbled and grateful to all who participated and supported!”  Minister Renair Amin was the officiant and gave the opening remarks and blessings!


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Votes Lost in Translation: Korean Confusion, Bengali Ballots Debated

By Voices of NY | Gotham Gazette, Korea Daily
Translated by Hye Mi

Voting can be a confusing process for native English speakers, but for those who don’t speak English, it’s even more daunting, as two immigrant groups pointed out after last week’s primaries.

Korean-Americans complained of confusing instructions and a crashed website that hindered their efforts to vote, and South Asians questioned the decision to provide translated ballots this November to Bengali-speakers but not Hindi-speakers.

Confusion about changed voting districts and a crashed website resulted in some Korean-American New Yorkers returning home from the polls last week without casting ballots, the Korea Daily reported. New Jersey Korean-Americans made similar complaints last month about their primary elections.

On the day of the primary election, the Korean language version of a webpage with poll locations and sample ballots was down from 11 to 4 p.m., the Korea Daily reported. An excerpt of the article is translated below:

It is assumed that an overload of Korean voters who didn’t get notice of the election tried to connect to the website all at the same time, causing the webpage to crash.

“It [was] caused because the commission didn’t promote the information of the primary election,” said Dongchan Kim, the director of Korean American Civic Empowerment. “Most Korean-American voters who called the hot line for inquiries asked about polling station locations. As a result of [the] investigation, it came out that they didn’t get the notice regarding vote information by mail from the commission.”


St. Andrew Avellino School in Flushing (Photo: Young Woong Yang via Korea Daily)

Last week the Gotham Gazette reported efforts to provide Queens voters with translators and phone operators fluent in Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi. Under federal mandates, translators, phone operators and signs must be provided to help Indian American voters in South Asian communities such as Jackson Heights and Rosedale. But South Asian voters last week didn’t find ballots printed in any of their languages. They will have to wait until November to see a Bengali-language ballot.

The Gotham Gazette interviewed a halal vendor, Salam Nabi, who said he has never voted in a city election, and has “no idea how it works.”

Nabi, 21, said the addition of Bengali as a language on the ballot would make a big difference for him. “I would vote now,” he said, as he looked outside the window of his steamy halal cart.

Still, the Board of Elections’ decision to print ballots in Bengali — which is spoken in Bangladesh and part of India — instead of Hindi has raised some criticism.

… Gurpal Singh, the executive director of SEVA NY, a South Asian organization operating in Richmond Hill, Queens, said the BOE’s commissioners had been “very academic in their approach” by choosing Bengali, rather than taking into account the realities of the neighborhoods themselves.

“If you really want to serve South Asians in Queens, you should do both languages, Bengali and Hindi,” he said. He said the “BOE is only doing the bare minimum to comply with the federal law” and that “even before the meetings, it seemed like the BOE already picked Bengali.”


Last December the Consumer Voice, along with 93 other national, state and local groups told CMS to publish rules that would require consultants pharmacist in nursing homes to be free of conflict of interest so they could make drug recommendations based on what is best for the residents-not what’s best for the pharmacy companies or drug companies.

This is an open letter to CMS Acting Administrator telling CMS to publish these rules NOW!


June 11, 2012

Marilyn B. Tavenner
Acting Administrator
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

RE: Federal Register, Vol. 77, No. 71. Section II.B.5. Independence of LTC Consultant Pharmacists (S. 483.60)

Dear Ms. Tavenner:

The undersigned organizations representing long-term care residents would like to comment on CMS’s continuing discussion of potential regulatory efforts to address the inappropriate use and overprescribing of drugs, including antipsychotics, which jeopardize residents’ health and often compromise their rights and quality of life with no medical benefit. We strongly supported CMS’s proposal in the October 11, 2011 Federal Register [76 FR 63018] to promulgate rules to require nursing homes to employ consultant pharmacists who are independent of the interests or control of long-term care pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, or their affiliates. Therefore, we are both disappointed and deeply concerned that while CMS has concluded that conflict of interest exists, that concerns about its impact on quality of care were “well-founded,” and that “change is necessary,” the agency is now proposing to take a wait-and-see approach to eliminating practices that harm vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries and cost hundreds of millions in misspent Medicare dollars. We strongly urge you to reconsider and to proceed with rule-making to require independent consultant pharmacists and also to take other prompt actions to address very serious problems in prescribing practices that were reported by consultant pharmacists and others during the public comment process.

CMS’s October request for comments recognized that some long-term care (LTC) pharmacies contracting with nursing homes not only sell them drugs but also provide them, at reduced cost, with the services of consultant pharmacists who conduct monthly drug regimen reviews required by Medicare and Medicaid and may recommend alternative drugs to physicians. The LTC pharmacies also receive rebates or preferred costs from pharmaceutical manufacturers for increasing their market share of the drugs used in these facilities. We agreed with CMS that such arrangements create strong incentives for consultant pharmacists to recommend unnecessary and inappropriate drugs. In our comments, we cited separate cases in which a pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, and the nation’s largest LTC pharmacy, Omnicare, settled government claims that they illegally promoted atypical antipsychotics to nursing homes to treat (i.e., sedate) residents with dementia. Antipsychotics carry an FDA Black Box warning that they increase the risk of death in persons with dementia.

The Department of Justice alleged that Omnicare received kickbacks from the manufacturer Johnson & Johnson to recommend that nursing homes’ doctors prescribe Risperdal, a drug that increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes in persons with dementia. The government said Omnicare then paid kickbacks to nursing homes by providing them consultant pharmacist services at rates below the fair market value, and it alleged that Johnson & Johnson knew that physicians accepted consultant pharmacists’ recommendations 80 percent of the time and considered them as an “extension of [J&J]’s sales force.”

In your April 12 Federal Register response to public comments [77 FR 22072], you concluded that commenters had corroborated your belief that industry practices pressure pharmacists to recommend certain drugs but also allow them to benefit directly from the rebates and price breaks that pharmaceutical companies give to long-term care pharmacies. Commenters, many of whom were consultant pharmacists or former consultant pharmacists, described practices that “strongly influenced utilization” and “often resulted in a higher number of medications per resident and use of inappropriate drugs”:
• LTC pharmacies gave consultant pharmacists lists of preferred drugs that they were expected to recommend.
• Some pharmacies had “therapeutic change programs” in which consultant pharmacists recommended that prescribers switch to a rebated drug. Automatic prescription changes were generated by the pharmacy when the doctor accepted the recommendation.
• Pharmacists’ performance evaluations and bonuses were based on their LTC pharmacy’s market share of preferred brands.
• Some pharmacies recouped the cost of providing consultant pharmacists to nursing homes by requiring them to recommend drugs that yielded the highest profits.

Commenters described other aspects of the financial relationships among drug manufacturers, LTC pharmacies, nursing homes, and consultant pharmacists that “subvert” drug regimen reviews required to ensure resident safety:
• Quotas and other policies that limit the amount of time consultant pharmacists are allocated to conduct reviews and that make reviews perfunctory.
• Requirements that pharmacists conduct reviews at the pharmacy rather than the nursing home, so they do not have access to medical records.

These reports raise serious concerns that warrant immediate CMS action to ensure the safety of nursing home residents from rampant overuse and misuse of prescription drugs. To delay implementing a protection that you have identified as “necessary” because it would be “highly disruptive to the industry” and “result in higher costs to the facilities and consultant pharmacists” ignores the fact that the industry created the existing system to inflate its profits and shift the costs to beneficiaries and taxpayers. A correction in this system is long overdue.

Commenters noted that the inappropriate relationship between some consultant pharmacists and those who make and sell drugs is not the only factor in the overutilization and misuse of drugs in long-term care facilities. We agree. Our organizations, for example, were among those who pointed out that understaffing, high staff turnover, and poor staff training also contribute to the problem; and we concur that physicians, other healthcare providers, and family members need better education about non-pharmacologic approaches to caring for persons with dementia. However, we do not agree that, because there are multiple factors that influence inappropriate prescribing practices (some of them beyond the scope of CMS’s regulatory responsibility), it would be inappropriate for CMS to address a critical factor that is within its immediate authority and responsibility. CMS also contends that having independent consultant pharmacists would not resolve the problem that “drug regimen reviews may not be yielding the intended outcomes or providing the expected beneficiary protections.” In fact, commenters explicitly related the problems with drug regimen reviews—prescribers’ lack of confidence that consultant pharmacists’ recommendations are in the best interest of residents and high quotas required by LTC pharmacies—to consultant pharmacists’ conflicts of interest with LTC pharmacies and drug manufacturers.

Although we agree with CMS that “consultant pharmacist independence will not solve the whole problem,” it does not follow that CMS should not address any of the problem, especially one this serious. CMS proposes to wait for the industry “to do what is in the best interests of our most vulnerable beneficiaries and implement the necessary and appropriate changes to address this serious situation.” This approach includes encouraging the industry to collect its own data and develop performance measures while CMS monitors the trend in deficiency citations and new nursing home performance measures to see whether there is some unspecified decrease in drug usage that would obviate the need for regulations.

Unfortunately, the financial incentives for the LTC industry to maintain the status quo are likely to overcome any hope of CMS that it will voluntarily desist from lucrative practices and relationships. In May 2011, the Office of the Inspector General said 14 percent of nursing home residents had at least one Medicare claim for an antipsychotic drug, amounting to charges of $309 million in the first half of 2007. During that six-month period, Medicare paid $63 million for antipsychotic drugs that were administered in violation of Medicare standards (for example, provided in excessive doses or for excessive duration). In its case against Johnson & Johnson, the government charged that during a five-year period when the manufacturer paid Omnicare for “active intervention programs,” including consultant pharmacist services, “Omnicare’s annual purchases of J&J drugs increased from approximately $100 million to over $280 million, with the annual purchases of Risperdal alone rising to over $100 million.” Risperdal, an antipsychotic, was only one of many drugs that the government claimed “unjustly enriched” J&J with profits from “illegal inducements” to Omnicare.”

Several of our organizations met with former Acting Administrator Donald Berwick and other CMS officials in September 2011 in a meeting that was instrumental in launching the current CMS initiative to reduce antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes. We believe that provider and consumer education about nonpharmacological alternatives to treat dementia are crucial to the elimination of inappropriate antipsychotic drug use in long-term care. However, educating consumers takes considerable time and is not a substitute for appropriate enforcement of meaningful standards. Even the best educated consumers are often a weak match against the financial incentives that drive poor care in nursing homes. CMS’s proposed approach – “Should marked improvement not occur, we will use future notice and comment rulemaking to propose requirements to address our concerns” –would leave another generation of residents to be harmed by inappropriate medications for which taxpayers foot the bill.

In the brief period since April 12—when CMS published its decision not to move forward on rulemaking on independent pharmacists or other problems identified during the October-December, 2011 comment period—new reports about consultant pharmacist conflicts of interest and their consequences have become public:
• On May 7, Abbott Laboratories reached a $1.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department for promoting off-label use of a psychoactive drug, Depakote, to control agitation and aggression in elderly nursing home residents with dementia, even though it had abandoned its clinical trials of the drug because elderly users were more likely to experience adverse events like somnolence, dehydration and anorexia. The government said, “Abbott created programs and materials to train the pharmacy providers’ consultant pharmacists about the off-label use of Depakote to encourage them to recommend the drug for this unapproved use. Under these contracts, Abbott paid millions of dollars in rebates to the pharmacy providers.”
• On May 31, the California Department of Public Health released a report on 42 investigations of potential inappropriate use of antipsychotics in persons over 55 in nursing homes. Inappropriate use was found in 69 percent of the cases, and in 85 percent of those, consultant pharmacists had failed to identify and report misuse of antipsychotic drugs. The report blamed “knowledge deficits/competency issues” and corporate workload mandates for the pharmacists’ failure identify medication problems. (“Consultant pharmacists stated there is pressure to review 10 to 12 resident charts per hour”—approximately five to six minutes for each resident’s drug regimen review.) Among the facilities that were cited for inappropriate antipsychotic use, “62% (18 of 29) were also cited for receipt of consultant pharmacist services below cost.”

• Based on the comments you received in response to your proposal to regulate the independence of LTC consultant pharmacists and your own narrative on your findings, we strongly urge you to proceed with rule-making to require consultant pharmacists to be independent of the interests or control of long-term care pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, or their affiliates. This will not resolve all the problems related to overprescribing and inappropriate drug use in nursing homes, but it will address a problem that jeopardizes the health of hundreds of thousands of elderly persons who live in nursing homes and increases the risk that Congress will transfer more Medicare costs to beneficiaries and taxpayers or reduce benefits.
• CMS should publish regulations that were proposed in 1992, but never finalized, that would require written informed consent prior to the use of antipsychotic drugs.
• CMS itself should collect data on the number, type, and outcome of interventions recommended by consultant pharmacists, rather than creating a new conflict of interest by relying upon the LTC industry to do it voluntarily.

We agree with CMS that a comprehensive approach is needed to address the rampant misuse of antipsychotic drugs with nursing home residents. Among the necessary changes, we recommend that federal regulations must address:
• Physician prescribing practices for antipsychotic drugs. Regulations must require a physician to examine a resident before prescribing antipsychotic drugs and prohibit PRN orders for antipsychotics.
• The role of the medical director. Regulations must assure that the medical director (along with the attending physician and director of nursing, 42 CFR 483.60(c)) review and respond to the pharmacists’ monthly reports on residents’ use of drugs, including antipsychotics.
• Improved survey process. CMS must assure that all state and federal surveyors have training in antipsychotic drugs. It must also require states to employ a sufficient number of pharmacists to participate in surveys, consult with surveyors, and serve on states’ specialized survey teams. CMS must restore a specific F-tag for antipsychotic drugs and revise the Interpretive Guidelines to add examples about antipsychotic drugs.
• Appropriate monitoring of unnecessary drug deficiencies (which include antipsychotic drugs) that are cited by survey agencies. CMS must require all survey reports (2567s) to be sent to CMS to determine whether surveyors need additional training to cite deficiencies at the appropriate scope and severity. (In 1994, when the enforcement system was implemented, CMS required that all 2567s in the country be sent to CMS for analysis.) CMS also should develop data-mining programs to identify nursing facilities with high rates of inappropriate antipsychotic drug use but no deficiencies (or deficiencies cited at a low scope and severity).

The questions you posed in the Federal Register on April 12 should result in additional information and support for eliminating serious deficiencies in the prescribing of medications in nursing homes, and we urge you to move forward promptly to make needed changes in Sec. 483.60 of the regulations after you have analyzed the comments. However, the problems revealed during the 2011 public comment period are serious, and we strongly urge you not to delay the necessary regulatory response.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform
Center for Medicare Advocacy

GRIOT Circle Inc.
The Community Partnership for Improved Long-Term Care, An Initiative of the Legal Aid Justice Center
Long Term Care Community Coalition
The National Consumer Voice


Saturday, March 17, 2012, marks the 100th birthday of the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.  Rustin was a proud Black gay man who was an indispensable architect of the Civil Rights Movement. His most noteworthy achievements include serving as chief organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, mentoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and helping to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

at news briefing on the Civil Rights March on ...

at news briefing on the Civil Rights March on Washington in the Statler Hotel, half-length portrait, seated at table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an effective bridge builder across a broad range of demographics, he spent more than 60 years involved in social, racial, economic, class, labor, anti-war and other justice movements, both domestically and internationally.

However, the story of this visionary strategist and activist, who dared to live as an openly gay man during the violently homophobic 1940s, 50s, and 60s, has rarely been told in mainstream or Black media.

Read more just click here —> NBJC Celebrates Bayard Rustin 100th Birthday 1912-2012



Join GRIOT for Free Holiday Lunch on Dec. 15th

We are preparing to have our Christmas luncheon on Thursday, December 15th, from 1 pm to 5 pm,  please come join us. 

You can dress up with your favorite suit or dress and jewels or slide into your comfy jeans and a sweater, just come share some holiday spirit. You don’t have to be alone for the holidays.  Come meet old friend and make new ones.   Enjoy a terrific, healthy holiday meal with all of us.

Giving Thanks for a Divine Group Dinner

GRIOT Circle hosted it’s Thanksgiving Luncheon  on Thursday, November 17th at our 25 Flatbush Ave location.  Members enjoyed scrumptious fried and baked Turkey, and traditional fixings of mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yam, mac-n-cheese, collard greens, ham, hot soup, and for desert, an array of homemade apple and pumpkin pies, chocolate nut cakes, and a large assortment of cupcakes.  Maxine who, took on Thanksgiving dinner as her project, did it up in a big way to honor our members and to make sure that we all were able to enjoy a terrific Thanksgiving meal together.

GRIOT Circle would like to thank Siri Pharmacy for co-sponsoring the luncheon, and all those members who made donations, WE THANK YOU!


Dear Convening Attendees and Supporters,

It is with heartfelt gratitude I express THANKS to everyone for your presence, for your participation both during and after, for the beginning of a national movement/network, however you choose to define it, that will address issues pertaining to POC LGBT aging.  The First National Convening on POC LGBT Aging was a phenomenal gathering, please applaud yourselves for a job well done!!

Glen-Michael Francis, Exec. Dir., GRIOT Circle.

To all the staff of GRIOT Circle…Bonnie Harrison, Anthony McPhatter, Victor Pond and Daniella Noel who went beyond the call of duty and put their brightest foot forward to create an outstanding Convening.

To Brian de Vries for always being informative and supportive, a man of truth and clarity.  To Kyaien O. Conner for your brilliance and impressive level of research that opened so many people’s eyes to the disparate needs of LGBT POC aging.  Your presentation was amazing!  Thank you.

Chezia Carraway, my Elder Mentor Sister Friend, lots of love!  Thanks!  And to Helena Bushong for being the voice of our Trans-elder community that is far too often invisible at these important gatherings.  You rock!

Aisha Young for continuing to be the leader that you are!  Laurens Van Sluytman for always being in GRIOT’s–and my–corner, a guy you can count on!  Much Love!  Jay Blackwell you know how I feel about you and your support!  Louis Colbert for your kind words, as you know, we got work to do!!!! 

Carmelita Tursi for always being so very understanding and supportive, and for being available and open to the new kids on the block! Talk soon!?   Hutson Inniss for coming in and doing the work necessary, thanks man!  Jewelle Gomez for being a great elder and movement leader.  Nancy Bereano, your mentorship and love is felt!   Brendalynn Goodall, my SISTA friend, for always having my back and just being a great supporter friend!

To Michelle Alcedo, my SFAM, for your continued energy and support!  Hope Barrett great seeing you as always, thanks for your words of encouragement.  Rev. Jaynce Jackson thanks for your words and for keeping everyone focused on why we were there.  To Sharon Day for bringing our native brothers’ and sisters’ voices to the table!  Don’t forget to say hi to Jackie for me!

Pauline Park thank you, it’s always good to have your voice in the room!  Tony Sarmiento what can I say, let’s make some noise, your brother in the struggle!  Mr. Bryan Epps from the moment I reached out to you, you were on board and have remained consistent in the process.  Thank you.  Let’s have lunch soon!

Mario Tapia we have got to do some more work together, let’s present our own initiative to the City Council and get it funded.  Call me!  Carmen Vazquez thanks.  That’s all I can say, thank you!!   Dion Wong  you brought a new clarity to the meaning of working in POC communities, I am humbled.

Dr. Rawha Haile, who was scheduled to be at the convening, was unable to attend because her father passed away.  I want to take this time to send out special thoughts of comfort, and a blessing to you and your family in celebration of your father’s amazing life!

Cheryl Reese thank you for being that voice in the room!  We got your information.  Imam Daayiee Abdullah thanks for lending your expertise to  this conversation!  Tracy Cooper you hit this one out the ballpark!  I knew you would!  To Edwin L. Walker, Senator Benjamin Cruz, the ASA/LAIN and all the participants I met … WE THANK YOU ALL.

GRIOT Circle is committed to working within and with the systems/committees to develop structure and support for the network.  We are also here to help with whatever else we can to move this project forward.  As I said during the closing plenary, it was not designed for GRIOT to be in charge of the network, that power is yours, it has to be organic and coming from the members, much like how we run GRIOT Circle.  We were the vehicle to bring us all together, now let us all build a network we can all be proud of.

With warm regards,

Glen-Michael Francis

Executive Director

GRIOT Circle, Inc.


Successful aging requires access to approximate housing, quality health care, and supportive services – needs that will challenge and transform the system entrusted with providing these services for a rapidly expanding aging population.   At the same time, the growing numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors and their increasing degree of openness and demands for fair and equal treatment are further challenging the elder care system to meet the needs of all seniors. This shift signals the urgent need to radically transform and redesign gerontological and geriatric health care paradigms.

Workshops on day one at the First National Convening of LGBT Aging Professionals.

Older Americans are also growing more radically and ethnically diverse.  In 2000, an estimated 84 percent of persons aging 65 and older were non-Hispanic white, 8 percent were Hispanic, 2 percent were Asian/Pacific Islanders, and less than 1 percent was Native American/Alaska Native.

Brendalynn Goodall, MSW and Carmen Vazquez, Coordinator, AIDS Institute.

By 2050, estimates indicate that approximately 64 percent of persons age 65 or older will be non-Hispanic white, 16 percent will be Hispanic, 12 percent will be non-Hispanic black, and 7 percent will be Asian/Pacific Islanders.  Service providers must take this growing diversity into account as they strive to provide quality services that genuinely meet seniors needs.

Curtis Lipscomb, Executive Dir., KICK--The Agency for LGBT African Americans.

All elders contend with many of the same aging-related issues, however, LGBT seniors and people of color (POC) LGBT in particular face many unique challenges. These seniors are “thrice-Hidden” due to social discrimination on levels: ageism, racism, homophobia and heteroism.

Benjamin J. F. Cruz, Chairman Committee on Youth, Cultural Affairs, Procurement, General Governmental Operations, and Public Broadcasting.

LGBT seniors often face anti-gay to gender discrimination by mainstream elders care providers that renders them “invisible” and impedes their access to vital services.  At the same time, LGBT elders frequently confront ageism within the LGBT community and the organizations created to serve the community’s needs.

Jewelle Gomez and Christopher Bates, CEO, PACHA.

This First National Convening on POC LGBT Aging is a collective declaration of the urgent need to reframe and transform the conventional “aging” health care landscape as it directly impacts POC LGBT elders.  We must move beyond problem solving in isolation to forging sustainable and innovative collaboration among aging, health and LGBT network.

Nancy K. Bereano (center).

It is essential to collectively advocate for the integration of both ethno-geriatrics and adult transformational learning into all aspects of health care delivery for POC LGBT elders.  This is a crucial time for advocates to communicate, hold each other accountable and present a untied front, especially during this period of national debate over the future of federal programs critical to the well-being of seniors.

Elita Rosillo-Christiansen

VP, Talent Management, Diversity & Inclusion

Chief Diversity Officer, HR Group