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Kirwan: Impending COVID-19 second wave underlines need for better home care for seniors

Sudbury largely spared the ravages of COVID-19, but we must not be complacent
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Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan. (Supplied)

The Seniors’ Advisory Panel has been conducting virtual meetings every two weeks for the past couple of months. Our next meeting is this coming Friday, June 26. 

The purpose of the meetings is to help the mayor and city councillors gain a better understanding of how our seniors are coping with the coronavirus pandemic measures that have been put in place. 

Each week 30 or more representatives of not-for-profit and private sector organizations and service providers engage in discussions with municipal staff and Seniors’ Advisory Panel members about the top priority needs which have been expressed by many of our seniors. Following each meeting, co-chair Barb Nott, sends all councillors a summary of what was discussed during the meeting.

My role as co-chair and councillor for Ward 5, is to make sure that the relevant priorities that are identified during the Seniors’ Advisory Panel meetings are reinforced when council is considering policies and decisions that will impact on our local senior population. 

According to the 2016 census, we have over 40,000 seniors who are 60 years of age and older living in Greater Sudbury. We also have another 26,000 people who are in their 50’s who will be adding to the aging demographic over the next 10 years. 

This means we have more than 66,000 residents out of an adult population of 127,000 who have a vested interest in what happens to seniors in our city.

As a result of my involvement with the Seniors Advisory Panel, it is abundantly clear that we have numerous groups and organizations who are providing excellent services and programs to our seniors in the community. 

Many volunteers are devoting their time and resources to improve the quality of life of our older adults and we are extremely grateful for their service.

At the same time, I am becoming painfully aware that there is so much more we must do to effectively meet the basic health and wellness needs of our seniors. The status quo is not acceptable, especially now that we are dealing with COVID-19. 

We must support public health strategies which address the social determinants of health that are so negatively impacting our older adults, especially in the areas of loneliness, social isolation and mental health.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, home care was being hailed as the way we must move forward if we are to improve the quality of life for our seniors in general. As we continue to deal with COVID-19, which has rendered older adults as the demographic which is most vulnerable to this disease, it is imperative that we establish the right kind of protections for our seniors whether they are living at home or in LTC facilities.

COVID-19 has made us all realize that we have reached a critical point in our evolution as a society when it comes to the health and wellness of our older adults. The time has come for a major cultural shift that must be led by seniors themselves as well as their volunteer and family caregivers. 

The provincial and federal governments will have a role to play by increasing funding for some of the programs and in improving the applicable policies that govern our long-term care homes and hospitals.

But the real agents of change will be found within the very neighbourhoods and residential settings where the majority of our seniors are currently living.

The municipal government, through city council, must find a way to provide the necessary support and resources which will make this change happen without delay. 

Our focus as a municipality must be on providing personal support services to the family caregivers of seniors living at home in the community. 

Family and volunteer caregivers can be mobilized effectively and quickly to care for our older adults, but they need resources. In addition, as we are pouring time and resources into home care, we must continue to vigorously advocate for more funding and effective policy changes from the provincial government that will enhance the quality of care in our long term homes.

The City of Greater Sudbury currently has space for 1,425 residents in our seven long-term care homes, but all of those beds are occupied. 

We also have hundreds of other individuals who qualify for placement in long-term care, but they typically must wait years in order to be placed. In the meantime they still require personal support while living at home or in other transitional placement settings awaiting a vacancy in a LTC home.

We also have more than 8,000 people who are 80 years of age and older living in our city, including 1,300 who are in their 90s. 

Many of these men and women have complex health conditions that require support while they are living at home. Another 12,000 people are in their 70s, and many of them are developing a need for both medical and non-medical support in order to address their needs.

Based on provincial statistics, the City of Greater Sudbury includes around 7,000 people over the age of 65 who are receiving publicly funded home-care services every year, with 75 per cent of this care being in the area of personal support and homemaking services, much of which could possibly be provided by family, friends and neighbours.

Therefore, our focus must be on how we can ensure that everyone who requires support receives that support, either from professionals or volunteer caregivers. No one should be at risk of falling through the cracks and feeling that they have been left behind to fend for themselves.

We have been very fortunate in the City of Greater Sudbury during the first several months of the coronavirus pandemic. Our city was spared from the anticipated ravages of COVID-19, largely because we put safety measures in place early and our residents followed the guidelines.

Because of this, our hospital was not overwhelmed and our seven long term care homes were able to protect the residents from the degree of devastation that was witnessed in LTC homes across the country.

But now is not the time to take a break. This summer is no time to relax. We are directly in the path of the second wave which could potentially overwhelm our health-care system. 

The message that is being shared by just about everyone participating in the seniors’ advisory panel meetings is consistent. 

We must come up with some effective home-care strategies which will meet the needs of our seniors who require varying levels of personal support in order to be able to age in place at home, both during the coronavirus pandemic and in what will be a very different post-pandemic world.

Robert Kirwan is the Greater Sudbury city councillor for Ward 5 and co-chair of the city’s Seniors’ Advisory Panel.




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