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Opinion: Post-pandemic society must be more sensitive to the needs of older adults

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the deficiencies in the province’s long-term care system, says Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, and a local comprehensive seniors’ strategy is needed ‘to build a much more age friendly community’

The United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) is a global collaboration lead by the World Health Organization that brings together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media, and the private sector to improve the lives of older adults, their families, and the communities in which they live.

June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario and Mayor Brian Bigger has proclaimed the month in Greater Sudbury. The theme for Seniors Month in Ontario this year is “Stay safe, active and connected.” This is a time when we typically recognize our amazing older adults and the contributions they‘ve made in our community.

The vision of the WHO initiative is a world in which all people can live long, healthy lives.

The decade will address four areas for action: 

  1. Changing how we think, feel and act towards age and aging; 
  2. Developing communities in ways that encourage the abilities of older people; 
  3. Delivering person-centred, integrated care and primary health services responsive to older people; and 
  4. Providing older people who need it with access to long-term care.

Locally, more than 650 participants of the two-day Seniors Summit 2019, which was sponsored by the Seniors Advisory Panel in October of 2019, came up with more than 160 action-oriented recommendations that were consistent with the four areas for action identified above. 

The outcome of the Seniors’ Summit could very well form the foundation of a comprehensive Seniors’ Strategy for the City of Greater Sudbury. The Seniors’ Summit action recommendations addressed the following general goals and objectives: 

  1. To provide older adults with a variety of suitable housing options and accommodation models in order for them to age in place in their own home within their own community:
  2. To provide older adults with appropriate support services in order for them to age in place in their own accommodation setting within their desired community:
  3. To provide family and volunteer caregivers with appropriate training, services and support in order to provide for the complex needs of older adults in their care.
  4. To establish community health & wellness centres in strategic locations throughout the city in order to effectively serve older adults in close proximity to where they live.
  5. To implement appropriate population health strategies designed to complement home and neighbourhood health and wellness programs and support services with a focus on enhancing the well-being of older adults regardless of where they live or their current socio-economic status.
  6. To ensure that municipal facilities and property are suitably maintained and kept in a state of repair year round in order to address the wide range of physical and mobility needs of older adults.
  7. To develop strategies which will ensure that sufficient personal support worker services are available to meet the needs of older adults whether they are living at home, in supportive housing, or in long term care facilities.
  8. To develop appropriate strategies and policies in order to meet the growing demand from low income older adults for suitable and affordable housing.
  9. To provide support to family caregivers, individual neighbours, schools, churches and community organizations to encourage them to accept more responsibility for overcoming the loneliness and social isolation issues facing older adults as they age in place within their desired home and community.

The City of Greater Sudbury must be prepared for a post-pandemic society that is going to be more sensitive to the needs of our older adults. We never want to return to the way things were prior to or during the pandemic.

(Editor’s note: On June 8, ran a column from Coun. Kirwan in which he highlighted the deficiencies in Ontario’s long-term care sector laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read that column here.)

The members of the Seniors Advisory Panel Network will be focusing on enhancing home care services for older adults who wish to age in place; advocating for overall improvements in our long-term care homes, and; encouraging the municipality to develop policies that will facilitate initiatives driven by both the public and private sectors.

The ultimate goal of these policies is to build a much more age friendly community that will enhance the quality of life of older adults. 

Our mission to create a better world for older adults begins today and must become one of our highest priorities. The first step is accepting the need for a comprehensive seniors’ strategy that will inform all decisions by city council that impact the older friends and neighbours who helped build this community.

Robert Kirwan is the city councillor for Ward 5.