Vancouver Sun

Support program for seniors now helping thousands

Volunteers have stepped up, writes Isobel Mackenzie.

- 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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