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B.C. seniors deserve their own fully independent advocate

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Barbara Steele: ‘We need a Seniors’ Advocate who stands up to government, not pats them on the back.’

The BC Care Providers Association recently made headlines by calling for the resignation of the Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie after emails accessed through freedom of information exposed back and forth conversations with the Hospital Employees’ Union.

I was surprised at the seriousness of this request by the BC Care Providers, who I know as strong advocates for seniors’ issues. However, after I read the emails between the Seniors’ Advocate and the union, I support the association’s position.

I agree that Isobel Mackenzie should step down.

The organization asserts that after 5 years it is time to look at the mandate of the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate, and that we consider some important structural changes in order to defend the interests of frail elderly seniors.

Given my own history in the creation of this office, I too fully support the call to review the mandate of B.C.’s Seniors’ Advocate.

Prior to Ms. Mackenzie’s appointment in 2014, there were many meetings and discussions regarding the role of this office. I was part of this dialogue in my role then as a Surrey city councillor, along with many other stakeholders interested in seniors’ issues.

As a group we strongly advocated for seniors, and as many of us were older adults and family caregivers we knew our subject well.

High on our priority list was to provide protections for seniors facing abuse and neglect. An important aim of the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate was to include well-trained and knowledgeable staff who would be readily able to assist seniors who self-identified as “at risk.”

This is the vision stakeholders supported, and that was never realized when the office was established.

The popular mantra for seniors’ care is “better at home.” When someone is physically and mentally capable to live in their own home, remaining there is certainly more ideal.

Many seniors and their home support caregivers work very well together, and to bring about change without any consultation with those who will be most affected – i.e. B.C. seniors – in my view, is just another form of abuse. When and where does it end?

When the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate speaks on behalf of those whom it represents, it must be independent of government. That is, in a nutshell, why so many of us called for establishing a Seniors’ Advocate in the first place.

Now, many of us see the office’s reports full of graphs and numbers advising of the costs of growing old, and while they are important to consider, I see few recommendations from the Seniors’ Advocate that will improve life for our seniors.

Sure, she tries to make the case around worker pay as a solution to improve care, but is that really the job of our Seniors’ Advocate, or that of the union leaders she exchanges emails and texts with?

Today, I am prepared to be more outspoken than ever because I am now also a senior. We seniors have been treated too long as a group that cannot make decisions for ourselves. It is belittling, insulting and it must stop.

Changing the system for home support caregivers without consulting us is all of that and more. We need a Seniors’ Advocate who stands up to government, not pats them on the back.

I hope there is room for further discussion with everyone on this decision before it’s too late. Let’s get it right.

 

Barbara Steele is a former six-term Surrey city councillor and a past president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities

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