OLDER AND WISER: Report on B.C. seniors provides encouraging stats

How did seniors in British Columbia fare during the last year?

Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.’s seniors’ advocate, has released a new report titled Monitoring Seniors Services 2018 which examines then range of services and supports for older adults and looks at whether they’re keeping up with the increased demand of the province’s growing population of seniors.

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In the report, which Mackenzie suggests we should all read (and I agree), she has sounded off on such topics as housing, health care, income supports, transportation and elder abuse. Under each of these headings there are a number of subcategories outlining in detail how supports for seniors are stacking up.

In a general statement, Mackenzie notes: “The seniors’ population is generally healthy, with only eight per cent considered frail requiring residential care, palliative care or home support.”

The report provides some encouraging statistics for seniors care. For instance, the report states that “there was an increase in the number of seniors placed in long-term care within 30 days of assessment, although some families are waiting much longer and there is significant variation between health authorities. However, many seniors, especially those living in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, are managing to find a bed within a reasonable time.”

In terms of housing though, Mackenzie states that “the cost of housing is affecting seniors as the number deferring their property taxes has grown exponentially. In addition, Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters data show that seniors who rent are having a more difficult time as more are claiming the SAFER grant and they are receiving a higher subsidy, telling us the gap between income and rent is growing.”

Housing, especially affordable housing, must be a priority for all levels of government. Consideration for housing projects for seniors on the North Shore is a must.

The report also gives an overview of transportation options in the province. For instance, with the public bus service the report shows that many bus stops in the province don’t have bus shelters making the use the service very uncomfortable for seniors. The North Vancouver City Seniors’ Action Table group has been advocating about this issue for some time. It recognizes there are more benches along the bus routes in the city but also note that many of them are not covered.

In terms of alternate forms of transportation, the report notes the use of volunteer driving programs that are run by many seniors’ centres, neighbourhood houses and churches – at least 85 in the province according to the report. On the North Shore we are fortunate to have the transportation programs run by Parkgate, Capilano Services Society, Silver Harbour and West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre, in addition to those run by the Better at Homes program. However, the report doesn’t note that these programs, with the exception of Better at Homes, do not get regular funding so must scramble to get grants and donations to keep the buses running. Many of the groups must also rely on volunteer drivers – and there always seem to be a driver shortage on the North Shore.

Under the Home and Community Care category, the report provides an overview of Adult Day Centres, Better at Homes, seniors centres and the New Horizons for Seniors Program. The report makes it clear that these programs are beneficial for seniors support. However, from my perspective, it would be helpful for seniors centres if there were more funding sources available, especially core funding sources. Many centres struggle for dollars, relying on one-time-only grants for time-limited programs, donations, and any other sources they can find.

While the New Horizons for Seniors Granting program is great in many ways, it is not a core funding program. Core funding grants allow for operational and administrative costs, which the NHS does not allow for except in very small amounts as part of a time limited project.

In the report, it is encouraging to see that more money from the province is targeted to Adult Day Programs. ADPs are publicly subsidized services that assist seniors and adults with disabilities to continue living in their own homes by providing supportive group programs and activities in the community.

As Mackenzie states, an ADP is “often the lifeline for caregivers who are struggling to care for their loved one at home, and we need to make it more, not less accessible.” But as the report indicates, ADP access by clients continues to decline and there is a 23 per cent increase in wait lists.

On the North Shore we currently have a total of seven overnight respite beds and 50 adult day care spaces publicly funded through Vancouver Coastal Health.

Given the demonstrated need regarding wait lists and increased provincial support, let’s hope our municipal councils will find a way to support more of these types of developments in the future.

Go check out the report for yourself online at seniorsadvocatebc.ca.

Margaret Coates is the co-ordinator of Lionsview Seniors’ Planning Society. She has lived on the North Shore for 48 years and has worked for and with seniors for 20 of those years. Ideas for future columns are welcome Email: lions_view@telus.net.

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