SENIORS IN FOCUS: Seniors advocate travelling the province

Isobel Mackenzie talking to seniors about issues across B.C.

In her travels around the province, the newly-minted seniors advocate for British Columbia has received an earful from people explaining they sometimes feel frustrated about ageism.

Isobel Mackenzie, named B.C.’s first seniors advocate two months ago, says many seniors are tired of other people telling them what they should be doing as they grow older. These are people who have lived their lives in their own way, she said, and now that they are older, some are facing changes being imposed on them from society and even various levels of government.

“Yes, we all have an obligation to talk about age issues, such as mobility,” Mackenzie said. “But for some of these people, there’s a sense that they are being told – or forced – to do things that is not what they want.”

She said these people have differences like anyone else, and what might be right for one person, isn’t necessarily correct for another.

“Many people still want to be able to take care of themselves,” she continued. “They want the tools to be able to do that.”

The seniors Mackenzie has heard in places like Prince George, Terrace, Kelowna and the lower mainland, expressed the desire to have better access to things like transportation and housing, with continued challenges in being able to afford dental care and prescription drugs. All this while continuing to be active members of the community. Mackenzie said many seniors volunteer and even continue to work in their communities. Losing their contribution, she added, would be a blow to the provincial economy.

“These issues run throughout all levels of government – from sidewalks being cleared in the winter and affordable housing to access to home care nurses and cleaning services. This is work that we all need to do.”

As the B.C. Seniors Advocate, Mackenzie said it’s her job to listen to people, their families, caregivers and more about the issues facing seniors.

“This office is not a single-issue panel but a permanent position and we’ll have to develop a plan on how to tackle the issues one at a time,” she explained. “I have a lot more travel yet to come and then we’ll take the summer to assess the impacts of what we’ve heard and what issue we are going to tackle first.”

The advocate is tasked with preparing reports to government and the public about immediate or long-term concerns facing seniors in the province. While her recommendations are not binding, they are made public and can have an impact on provincial policy.

Mackenzie said people have been grateful that her office has been created and noted it’s a long-term commitment to help address issues in the province.

“People are expecting I will be able to give voice to their concerns, making them public and reaching the government as well.”

One of her biggest surprizes while traveling the province this spring has been learning about the high costs of medical travel from the interior to specialists in the lower mainland.

“Living on the Island, I didn’t quite appreciate the hardship on people,” she said, adding she heard many stories from many different places about the costs to see medical specialists – and the desire to find a way to reduce those impacts for necessary treatment.

Mackenzie will be hearing more from seniors this month. She resumes a busy travel schedule this week, visiting Kamloops, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Penticton, Castlegar, Cranbrook and White Rock. She plans on meeting with local officials as well as seniors and will tour housing and care facilities.