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New seniors advocate brings optimism

Vancouver organizer says B.C. government must fund seniors programs
Grace Tanaka (left), Hope Rust and Eileen Eablitz (right) play a round of bridge at the South Granville Senior’s Centre. Photo: Dan Toulgoet

The executive director of the South Granville Seniors Centre is hopeful the new seniors advocate position announced last week by the provincial government will benefit B.C.’s growing elderly population.

“Support for seniors is getting smaller and smaller,” said Clemencia Gomez. “I hope this seniors advocate will help us get more funding or at least better solutions.”

Last Wednesday, Health Minister Terry Lake announced Victoria-based Isobel Mackenzie would be B.C.’s first seniors advocate. It’s the first such position created in Canada. Mackenzie has a long history of working with seniors, most recently as executive director of Beacon Community Services in Victoria for the past 18 years. Mackenzie, who was selected from more than 130 applicants, will begin work March 31, and her Victoria-based office is expected to be open and operational by late spring. The Office of the Seniors Advocate will monitor seniors’ services, promote awareness and work collaboratively with families, policymakers, service providers and others to identify solutions to systemic issues and make recommendations to government on ways to improve care for B.C.’s aging population.

At the time of the announcement, Mackenzie said she would be dedicated to protecting her independence in representing seniors outside of government influence.

“I have seen first-hand the issues, the challenges and the choices facing our seniors, their families and their caregivers,” Mackenzie said at a press conference following the announcement last Wednesday. “I have witnessed the profound desire of seniors to maintain their dignity and their independence. And on more than one occasion, I have been humbled by the reminder that seniors are individuals who have their own ideas about how they see themselves aging.”

Gomez said she hopes Mackenzie is aware of the vital role seniors centres play when it comes to helping older adults live healthy, dignified lives.

“Seniors centres are the preventative group,” said Gomez. “We’re the ones who help seniors stay healthy and independent through programs and lunches. The government should support seniors centres because they save them money.”

Gomez described the work done at community-based seniors centres as “amazing.” She added seniors’ populations are rapidly growing in all communities and that need for support must be addressed.

“So the government should provide more funding,” said Gomez. “There have been cuts to so many programs like home support and community support.”

Gomez said in Vancouver many seniors centres have been in operation for decades. She added there’s a big difference between seniors centres and community centres.

“Seniors want to enjoy their exercise programs like yoga and tai chi with other seniors,” said Gomez. “They don’t want to exercise with young people they can’t keep up with.”

At the news conference last week, Mackenzie said in part, “I have spent nearly two decades working directly with seniors, their families and their care providers and learning about the individual issues that affect seniors as they age and receive care.”

To that end, Gomez said she’s pleased with Mackenzie’s appointment and is optimistic the new seniors advocate will work closely with seniors centres in the future.

“These days we spend all of our time looking for money,” said Gomez. “I hope with her help the provincial, federal and municipal governments will realize just how important seniors centres are.”