Local seniors being heard through Seniors Advocate

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Seniors have a voice, and it’s being heard through the Alberta Office of the Seniors Advocate (OSA).

On Wednesday, March 8, local seniors learned about what the provincial advocate can do for them, and how they benefit from a service that was long overdue.

Alberta Seniors Advocate Sheree Kwong See is making her way across the province so she can hear the concerns of seniors throughout Alberta, and share with them information about the OSA.

“Our office engages in complex case management,” Kwong See said, adding they provide assistance over the phone, through email, and regular mail, answering questions and addressing concerns.

She used an example of a complex case where a senior found himself in the middle of an Aboriginal gang war. He needed to be connected with resources that could help, so he called the Seniors Advocate office.

“He needed to know what was in his community so he could be safe. So we had someone in our office that is an expert in resources surrounding elder abuse, and she helped him find what he needed in his community.”

The OSA will continue to work with seniors for as long as necessary, whether that includes days, weeks, or even months of follow up.

“We make sure you are getting the help you need,” Kwong See explained. “Your case is not closed until you tell us that you have received resolution.”

Using what they learn from seniors, the OSA share possible resolutions and seniors’ concerns with the Alberta Seniors and Housing Ministry. Working with the ministry, they brainstorm ideas and resolutions to some of the problems seniors are facing.

The OSA has two major roles, explained Kwong See.

Those roles include advocacy for the seniors, and identifying, analyzing and making recommendations around systemic issues.

“In doing this, we are using the process of resolution support to help us understand the issues, but that’s an incomplete picture and only tells us what people are coming to us about. We also believe to fully understand the systemic issues, we need to actively ask people what those issues are,” Kwong See added.

This is one of the reasons why she is travelling across the province. Through her travels, she has come across a variety of concerns; some are more common in the northern communities.

These issues were also shared by the local residents who expressed worry about transportation to city hospitals for multiple appointments, the lack of companionship in long-term or home care when their spouse is no longer with them, spouses remaining together in long-term care, inflation and finances, long-term care abuse and neglect, and being bullied by commercial settings both on a residential, staff and management level.

Other concerns included subsidized housing for seniors, wills and other legal issues, and incorporating video conferencing in hospitals so seniors aren’t having to travel to the city for follow-up appointments.

Diahann Polege-Aulotte, community programmer for the Bonnyville FCSS, said some of the most prominent issues are transportation and seniors housing, mostly because of the town’s proximity to the larger centres.

Polege-Aulotte helped organize the event, and noted she was surprised that seniors who have spent years saving for their retirement are being denied low-income or senior housing because of their pension. Something one of the residents addressed to Kwong See as a concern at the meeting.

Using what they now know, OSA will brainstorm ideas on how to solve the issues, and will make another trip to the area in a few months to check-in with residents and follow-up.

“As we are developing those issues and recommendations, we will be back to talk to you again around those recommendations to see if we have heard you correctly,” explained Kwong See.

Since opening its doors on Sept. 1, 2016, the OSA has helped over 430 clients from across Alberta.

“Some of those cases are simple requests for information, but others are more complicated cases where people are calling us as a last resort and they really need help,” Kwong See said, adding she encourages seniors to reach out when they need help, have concerns or want to provide feedback.

Polege-Auotte added because of the increase in the number of residents heading into retirement, a service like this is a necessity.

Germaine Prybysh said as the manager for the seniors drop-in centre, she is often approached by seniors in the community with concerns that she is unable to address. Knowing this service is available has put her mind at ease.

“There are a lot of burning questions in seniors’ minds, and to know that there’s a place they can go, reach out, and hopefully get some piece of mind, if nothing else, at least they are being steered in the right direction,” she said.

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