Trail group reacts to B.C.’s new seniors’ advocate

Appointing a provincial seniors’ advocate is a step in the right direction, according to a local group advocating for seniors health care.

Appointing a provincial seniors’ advocate is a step in the right direction, according to a local group advocating for seniors health care.

But the president of Trail’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Seniors (SPCS) is disappointed to learn that the new position will report directly to the Minister of Health.

“(This) presents almost a conflict of interest situation as many seniors’ concerns are about how health care services are presently delivered,” said SPCS president Candy Parrilla. “I would see her primary focus as looking firstly at the Ombudsperson’s report and the very limited movement by the government in acting on the recommendations in the report.”

Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy couldn’t agree more.

The New Democrat health critic said she supports the creation of the position, but the post requires more teeth to allow the advocate to work more independently of government. An independent person would be able to investigate the individual and systemic needs of B.C.’s seniors, Conroy said in a statement to the Canadian Press.

“There is a very real need for this position, as seniors across the province face both individual and systemic problems and struggle to get the care they need and deserve,” she said. “We also have called for a strong and independent advocate that would be able to stand up for seniors without being encumbered by the reality of being employed by the people whose decisions she is evaluating.”

Isobel Mackenzie was appointed Wednesday by Health Minister Terry Lake to head the Office of the Seniors Advocate, fulfilling a government promise to ensure a strong voice for the province’s 700,000 elderly residents.

The Victoria care administrator with 20 years experience working with and serving the elderly said the Seniors Advocate Act ensures she must advise the government in an independent manner. She said the law states she must meet with the health minister at least once a year and that her report to the minister must be made public.

Much of her job, she said, would be recommending remedies for issues involving seniors.

Tragic individual cases of seniors with dementia wandering from their homes and others being found malnourished in hotels or choking to death while being fed by caregivers were making headlines as the Liberals considered creating the advocate position.

The advocate post also resulted from a sweeping report by Ombudsperson Kim Carter who made 176 recommendations to improve the lives of B.C.’s elderly.

Carter’s 448-page report, The Best of Care: Getting it Right for Seniors in British Columbia, also contained 143 findings. It concluded a three-year investigation into seniors care in B.C., making recommendations to improve home and community care, home support, assisted living and residential care services for seniors.

The government responded to Carter’s report promising to focus on six areas, including establishing the position of a seniors advocate to ensure a more accessible and transparent approach to caring for seniors.

As the chief executive at Victoria’s not-for-profit Beacon Community Services, which provides services to 7,000 seniors, Mackenzie said she knows the challenges and choices seniors and their families face.

“Through the office of the seniors advocate, I will be looking at what is working, what should be improved and what are the emerging issues for the future,” she said.

About 130 people were considered for the position. The budget for the Office of the Seniors Advocate will be about $2 million a year and Mackenzie will earn an annual salary between $170,000 and $190,000.

The SPCS is a non-profit, volunteer-based seniors’ health care advocacy group located in Greater Trail. Its mission is to advocate and pursue options for adequate, affordable, accessible and safe continuing care resources and services for seniors within their immediate communities.

-With files from CP