Respecting Seniors Beyond Senior’s Week
The first week in June every year is Senior’s Week in British Columbia. As proclaimed by the province, one of the purposes of Senior’s Week is to recognize that “seniors are a diverse population within a society that supports its members throughout the life continuum, and recognizes individual rights to dignity, respect, autonomy, and choice.”
This recognition is more important now than at any time since the proclamation of this week almost two decades ago. In the past 15 months, our most vulnerable seniors living in long-term care homes across the province have borne the brunt of COVID-19.
As the restrictions around COVID-19 begin to lift and as we realize the toll that COVID-19 has taken on our seniors, it is high time that we redouble our efforts to recognize and care for our seniors in meaningful ways. We can do this as individuals by visiting elderly relatives, helping our elderly neighbour with their yard work, or simply showing special concern for the seniors that we pass by in the grocery store.
But we must do this as a society as well by recognizing the essential nature of informal caregiving and by respecting choice in long-term care.
Late last year, an NDP MPP in Ontario introduced the “More Than a Visitor Act” in the Ontario Legislature. This legislation would recognize the indispensable physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual care that family members, neighbours, and friends provide to seniors in long-term care. It would allow informal caregivers to continue their caregiving role throughout an emergency or pandemic, times in which seniors stand in greatest need of care. The BC Seniors’ Advocate is calling for similar legislation.
Such legislation, if it had been in place before COVID-19, would have ensured that seniors were better cared for throughout of the pandemic. Instead, they were isolated from friends and family for months on end while long-term care staff struggled to keep up and dealt with systemic burnout. British Columbia would do well to introduce legislation ensuring visitor access to long-term care if it really intends to “support its members throughout the life continuum.”
The government of British Columbia should also give greater recognition to the diversity of long-term care homes in our province. In his bid to be re-elected as premier in 2020, John Horgan stated that his goal would be to transition to a fully public system of long-term care. Although likely rooted in good intentions to improve long-term care outcomes, this plan fails to recognize the excellent work of many private institutions and violates the principles of autonomy and choice Senior’s Week is meant to promote.
Thousands of seniors in British Columbia choose a private long-term care home for a variety of reasons. Some long-term care homes specialize in providing culturally appropriate care to Indigenous seniors. In my home community of Abbotsford, faith groups have started long-term care homes such as Menno Home to ensure that seniors and their families can receive care from an explicitly Christian perspective. Transitioning to an exclusively public system of long-term care prevents seniors from accessing such culturally or religiously appropriate care that many seniors desire. Our government and our society must promote choice in long-term care.
We all have a part to play in celebrating and caring for our seniors. Let’s do our best to ensure that care for seniors is done right as we move past Senior’s Week for another year and strive to make tangible improvements for the months and years to come.
Levi Minderhoud is the British Columbia Manager for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada.