British Columbia’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie

COVID-19 supports for seniors

VICTORIA — We are all living in a period of high anxiety, distress and uncertainty as COVID-19 has upended our lives. As we grapple with the reality of COVID-19 restrictions that see many of us working from home, or not working at all, we also see that seniors are particularly vulnerable.

The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are at much higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 and the restrictions for self-isolating can be more onerous for seniors. Fortunately, new supports and an outpouring of goodwill promises to make things better for B.C. seniors. The latest initiative is the Safe Seniors Strong Communities program, launched late last month. It expands the role of the 2-1-1 phone and web system to recruit volunteers and help more seniors. Within the first 48 hours, 2-1-1 had received thousands of calls from seniors needing help and volunteers willing to help.

The program is the brainchild of an all-party legislative committee that was convened by Health Minister Adrian Dix. Normally sparring across from each other in the legislature, five MLAs from all three parties came together united in the goal of ensuring the seniors of B.C. continue to get the groceries and medications they need and that they remain socially connected while self-isolating at home.

The program partners with bc211 and the Better at Home program. Now, anyone who wants to help a senior simply needs to call 2-1-1 or visit bc211.ca and register to volunteer. They will shortly be matched with a senior in their community who needs help with getting groceries and medications or who just wants a friendly voice to talk to. Any senior who needs help can also just dial 2-1-1 or visit the website and they will receive a call within 48 hours from the local Better at Home agency and help will quickly be on its way.

Launched only a few weeks ago, thousands of British Columbians from every part of the province have already shown their support by registering to volunteer and undergo the necessary criminal record review to ensure we are protecting vulnerable seniors. As a result, thousands of seniors have had wellness checks, groceries delivered and reassuring chats with caring volunteers. If you are reading this and have not yet volunteered or if you need help, pick up the phone or visit the website now and join this growing movement that is connecting seniors with caring volunteers in their community on a daily basis.

COVID-19 is particularly difficult for seniors. The case for staying at home is compelling for us all, but for seniors, even outings for the essentials should be avoided. Home isolation is a sacrifice for all of us; however, seniors are much more likely to live alone and have no one else at home to share the burden. I know we have undoubtedly lifted the spirits of many seniors by demonstrating how much we care about their health and well-being.

When the need for staying at home became necessary there was an immediate rush of people reaching out to their elderly neighbours and family members, checking to see they had what was needed. Elected officials at all levels of government have been consistent in expressing their concerns for the most vulnerable, namely seniors. Retailers are taking pains to dedicate special opening hours exclusively for seniors and the Safe Seniors, Strong Communities program has built on this foundation of exceptional goodwill.

When COVID-19 is behind us, many say we will be living in a changed world. The degree to which that is true remains to be seen. One legacy that will last; however, is the thousands of new friendships that will have developed between volunteers and the seniors they have helped. The chats on the phone will inevitably turn to chats over a cup of tea and we will have chipped away at the isolation and loneliness that many seniors experience.

We will get through this together and we will come out stronger on the other side. How proud we will be when we realize that, when called upon, we found our compassion and humanity and we showed the seniors in our community how much they are loved and cherished.

Isobel Mackenzie is British Columbia’s Seniors Advocate, monitoring and analyzing services and issues affecting seniors.

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