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Senior advocacy group highlighting election issues for seniors in Saskatchewan

In light of Seniors Week this week, the Canadian Association for Retired Persons has been hosting a series of town halls to talk about important election issues for seniors
seniors holding hands
(Getty Images)

The Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP) is putting the spotlight on some of the hot button issues affecting older residents in Saskatchewan ahead of the upcoming provincial election, in the hopes of sending voters to the polls more informed. 

Kathleen Spatt, local CARP chapter president, said that with two of the three virtual senior town halls completed, CARP has seen a great turnout in attendance to discuss the topics that seniors should be considering as they head to the voting box.

The first event, held on Sept. 14, discussed the need for a seniors’ advocate in Saskatchewan with Dr. Suzanne Brake, Seniors’ Advocate in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

“It was a really powerful presentation and the one thing that stood out was that she is an independent senior advocate, so she operates outside of government influence and control and is free to engage with seniors in testing the waters of what is working and not working in the communities,” said Spatt. “It was very informative and left us wanting a seniors’ advocate of our own.” 

Spatt said there has been a continual rise in interest in developing a seniors’ advocate in the province, and many hope to see the topic appear on party platforms this election.

The second event on Sept. 28 invited a panel of experts to discuss the state of long-term care in Saskatchewan and what is needed to improve conditions moving forward. 

Spatt said a common perspective offered at the session was that long-term care is in need of reform to provide an improved level of care that residents deserve — a problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s much we can learn from Europe and places that concentrate more on keeping people in their home, allowing them to age in place before they reach a stage where it's no longer feasible for them to stay in their home,” said Spatt. 

Long-term care homes are facing a staffing shortage, said Spatt, with an average of one care worker available for every 10 residents. This leaves many residents lacking in care, both emotional and physical, and is only amplified by the lack of care standards present in the province.

“We need to have somebody look at the rights and choices for people in long-term care overall, but specifically now under the COVID restrictions,” said Spatt. “We know there are a lot of inefficiencies and neglect that does occur in the long-term care system, and this has kind of blown up and become a huge issue for many, saying we cannot continue to treat our elders this way.”

Experts are saying there is a need for a more resident-centred care system, with smaller pods of residents to provide more personalized and community-focused care than is currently in place.

The final session of the town halls will take place on Oct. 5, to discuss the need for accessibility to high-dose vaccines for seniors living outside of personal care homes, which the government has not committed to providing. 

The federal and provincial governments recently announced funding to provide high-dose vaccines for the flu, shingles and pneumococcal in long-term care homes and personal care homes, but have not pledged to offer assistance to seniors living outside of care homes.

“For a married couple wanting all of these (high dose) vaccinations, you’re looking at about $1,000 out of pocket for them, and for a senior on low income, that’s going to be out of range for them,” said Spatt. “So this is a cost-saver for Saskatchewan (because) the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from these ailments are primarily seniors, and the cost of hospitalization is outrageous compared to the small cost of vaccinations to prevent these illnesses.”

For Spatt and CARP, offering a platform to discuss and learn more about these issues is important to help voters shape their opinions before they head to the polls in October — and discussing the issues that seniors face every day is especially important during Seniors Week, taking place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3.

Seniors’ issues are relevant to more than just the retired voter demographic, she explained, as there are lots of younger voters in the province who are considering options for their parents or their own futures.

Additionally, the older demographic makes up a large portion of the active voter pool — with 80 per cent of seniors voting in the last provincial election — and CARP is hoping to catch the attention of party leaders and let them know what issues are important.

“We want the attention of politicians heading into the election because now would be a time for them to step up to the plate and say, ‘OK, we hear you and here’s what we’re prepared to do for older adults in Saskatchewan,’” said Spatt. 

CARP also has plans to host the largest virtual Zoom call with seniors on Oct. 1 to celebrate International Seniors Day, taking place at 11 a.m. and featuring a number of Canadian celebrity guests like federal party leaders and Haley Wickenheiser, to name a few.

The session will be immediately followed by a presentation from experts in the prairie provinces calling for the development of seniors’ advocates. Details about the Seniors Day events can be found online here.