Seniors to be surveyed

B.C. Seniors Advocate finds inconsistent services from region to region across the province

B.C.’s new seniors advocate has heard from people across the province that there’s a startling inconsistency in services depending on where a senior lives.

Isobel Mackenzie, who was appointed as the province’s first seniors advocate in March 2014, issued her first report at the end of October following six months of touring the province and meeting with seniors, their families and advocates in 26 communities. One of her key findings is the differences in how seniors services are delivered across the province.

“Clearly, there’s an inequity in where you live on what services you can find as a senior,” Mackenzie said in an interview with the PNR.

Her report, The Journey Begins: Together We Can Do Better, describes 13 challenges facing seniors in B.C. Those range from being able to age close to home and having access to adequate and affordable housing, to issues with transportation, home care and dementia care.

Mackenzie said the one constant throughout her travels was this inconsistency in how provincially-mandated services were being delivered.

“Some things are working well in most parts of the province,” she continued, “nothing is working well in all parts of the province.”

She said in the case of residential care, some people are facing long wait lists in some communities, while in other places, the expense is limiting their access.

And when it comes to specialized services, such as doctors’ care, seniors in B.C.’s interior are often faced with the challenge of traveling to the Lower Mainland or elsewhere to get the help they need.

This overall service delivery inconsistency, Mackenzie said, has an impact on seniors — on whether they can afford those services and at the same time afford food, social activities and more.

To better pinpoint where the issues lie in publicly-funded service delivery, Mackenzie said her office is commissioning three independent satisfaction surveys — on residential care facilities, health support clients and for users of HandyDART services.

She said each survey will be provincially-standardized and offered to as many users of these public services as possible. the hope is they will provide substantive evidence of the differences between facilities and services across the province.

“It will be the same survey in Prince George as in Victoria,” she explained. “We’re going to spend time formulating the questions to find out not just what isn’t working, but why and what these services should look like.”

The surveys, she continued, will be sent to the estimated 30,000 home support clients and seniors in the approximately 27,000 care beds in B.C. in 2015. The hope is enough people will respond to give the Advocate’s office enough information on which to base recommendations to government.

“We want to know what’s really going on, to get a great picture of what is happening in the south Island to the northeast and northwest of the province.”

Mackenzie’s report also points out her office is collecting data on wait times for seniors’ shelter aid, subsidized seniors’ housing units and residential care beds. It’s part of the Advocate’s commitment to try to have such information easily available to seniors in one place.

You can find this information and read the Seniors Advocate’s first report online at www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca.

Most seniors not spoiled and rich

B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says recent media reporting that claims seniors in this country are privileged does not reflect reality for most elders in this province.

Mackenzie told the PNR it’s important for people to understand that while there are many seniors who are able to provide for themselves, they do not represent the majority of elders in B.C.

“A majority of seniors in B.C. are living on $25,000 a year,” she said, adding an estimated 52,000 earn only $17,000 a year.

What’s missing from the media reporting, she said, is the difference between a senior’s income and their assets — which does not always translate into how wealthy they are. Some people do have assets and investments outside of the government entitlements that helps them provide for themselves in their senior years, she continued, but many others do not. Even if their income is reasonable, Mackenzie said, going into residential care can eat up as much as 80 per cent of their income.

Mackenzie said that during her travels across the province over the last six months, she did not see a majority of seniors who were feel off enough not to require public services.