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Happier in public care? The stats will tell

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BC Seniors Advocate Isobel McKenzie spoke to a seniors conference in Sechelt March 3. Donna McMahon photo

Almost 200 Sunshine Coast seniors signed up for a day-long seniors conference on March 3 at the Sechelt Band Hall, the highlight of which was a keynote address by BC Seniors Advocate Isobel McKenzie.

The Office of the Seniors Advocate, established in 2014, is the first office of its kind in Canada. It collects data on seniors’ services and issues in BC, and makes recommendations to government.

In 2016, the office launched an ambitious survey of all care facility residents in the province, asking about their satisfaction with their living situation. Frequent visitors and staff have been surveyed before, but this is the first systematic survey of residents, and McKenzie said it was made possible by a “heroic” army of over 800 volunteers who went to interview 27,000 residents.

“We’re approaching every resident and 40 per cent are responding in some meaningful way to this survey,” said McKenzie.

Responses will be matched with quality indicators that physicians use, and results will be made public right down to the individual facility level.

“There’s a big debate about private versus public. We’re going to tell, is there a pattern that shows if people in public facilities are happier? We don’t know, but the data will tell us,” said McKenzie.

In her presentation, McKenzie took pains to dispel a number of common myths about seniors, starting with the idea that Canada’s aging population – the “Grey Tsunami” – is a looming disaster.

“This tsunami scenario crashing over us and ending the world as we know it is not borne out by the data,” said McKenzie. “We’re going to go from 17 per cent to 24 per cent [over 65] – a shift but not a dramatic shift. There are countries around the world today that are already at a quarter of their population over 65. And their sky hasn’t fallen and their world hasn’t collapsed. We’re going to be able to deal with this shift.”

She noted that 70 per cent of seniors over 85 live independently without using public home support services, and that four out of five do not have dementia.

However, she did identify a number of challenges, one of them being income. Fifty percent of BC seniors have incomes under $26,000, and half of seniors over 75 live on less than $22,000 a year.

The Seniors Conference was organized by the Community Resource Centre, and included presentations by local service providers on topics such as getting home support, frauds and scams, abuse awareness and “Dementia Friendly Communities.”

Donna McMahon

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