Sup­port pro­gram for se­niors now help­ing thou­sands

Vol­un­teers have stepped up, writes Iso­bel Macken­zie.

Vancouver Sun - - OPIN­ION - Iso­bel Macken­zie is B.C.’S se­niors ad­vo­cate, mon­i­tor­ing and an­a­lyz­ing ser­vices and is­sues af­fect­ing se­niors.

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 prom­ise 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. Five MLAS from all three par­ties that nor­mally spar with each other in the leg­is­la­ture 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 can call 2-1-1 or visit 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 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.

Since the pro­gram was launched only two 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 log onto the web­site 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 all of us, 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 to have no one else at home to share the bur­den. Bri­tish Columbians have un­doubt­edly lifted the spir­its of many se­niors by demon­strat­ing how much we care about their health and well-be­ing.

Many peo­ple have reached out to their el­derly neigh­bours and fam­ily mem­bers, check­ing to see they have what they need. Elected of­fi­cials at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment have been con­sis­tent in ex­press­ing their con­cerns for the most vul­ner­a­ble, namely se­niors. Re­tail­ers have ded­i­cated spe­cial open­ing hours ex­clu­sively for se­niors. The Safe Se­niors, Strong Com­mu­ni­ties pro­gram has built on this foun­da­tion of ex­cep­tional good­will.

Many say that when COVID-19 is be­hind us, we will be liv­ing in a changed world. The de­gree to which that is true re­mains to be seen. One legacy, how­ever, will be 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.

Chats on the phone will in­evitably turn to chats over a cup of tea.

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