First seniors advocate draws huge crowd

Town hall meeting

The first ever Seniors Advocate of B.C., Isobel Mackenzie, drew an audience of well over 200 people for a town hall meeting on Jan. 20 at the Sechelt Indian Band Hall.

Mackenzie was appointed in March of 2014 to look at seniors’ services in B.C. and make recommendations to government that could improve things. Since her appointment, Mackenzie has been visiting various communities to explain her role and hear first-hand what some of the issues are.

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She got a six-point rundown of the main issues seniors face locally, thanks to a recent Community Connections for Seniors project that gathered information from seniors across the Coast.

The project was run through the Community Resource Centre with a grant from the federal government and it saw 250 participants give their input in eight local community meetings run at the end of 2014.

While the report found some strengths, like the availability of activities and events for seniors, it pointed to housing, independent living, transportation, health, community and information and advocacy concerns.

Housing, Mackenzie said, has been the number one issue raised with seniors across the province so far.

“I have to say this wasn’t the number one issue I thought I was going to hear about,” she said. “I thought I was going to hear ‘we need more residential care beds.’ That isn’t what I heard. Housing was the number one issue I heard about, followed by transportation. Neither of which are what you would say traditionally seem to be health care issues, and yet they were from a senior’s perspective the most important issues, those and income supports.”

She noted that many seniors had approached her at meetings in other communities to say they were afraid their money would run out and they would ultimately end up in residential care, which didn’t seem to be anyone’s preference.

“So that has caused me to delve a little bit into some things and formulate some ideas and some sense of commitment to what I’d like to be able to achieve. One of the things that’s very striking is that in this province there’s no program to assist seniors with glasses, dental, hearing aids or mobility aids,” Mackenzie said, noting she was committed to finding a way to make those benefits available to seniors.

Of course, Mackenzie can only gather information and make recommendations. She can’t “make the government do anything,” she said.

Her office plans to focus on “four main functions” this year, she said, the first being monitoring key services to seniors.

“So that we can report out to seniors in this province on how the various levels of government, whether they be local, provincial, federal, health authority, how they are managing on delivering key services to seniors, and we’re going to report on that in a standardized way,” Mackenzie said.

“You’re going to be able to compare apples to apples with somebody who’s in Burnaby or New Westminster or Victoria, which is going to allow you to ask your government a lot of questions if your key services are not at the level they are for other citizens in British Columbia.”

The second function of her office will be information and referral for seniors. Mackenzie has started to improve that area with a new information and referral phone line for seniors that will be answered by a live person at 1-877-952-3181 and a website at www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca.

Thirdly Mackenzie said her office will focus on community outreach and engagement and lastly, she will make recommendations to the provincial government to improve services for seniors.

“And your government is legislatively required to make sure that any recommendations I make are made public,” Mackenzie said. “I don’t have the power to make government do what I recommend, that’s your power to make them do what is recommended, but they must let you know.”

The large crowd in Sechelt was receptive to Mackenzie who answered questions from the floor that touched on all of the concern areas highlighted in the findings of the Community Connections for Seniors project.

Learn more about the Office of the Seniors Advocate in Mackenzie’s first report: The Journey Begins, Together, We Can Do Better, available at www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca.

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