On Thursday at noon, the Manitoba Health Coalition (MHC) will host a virtual event through their Facebook page to call for the establishment of a Manitoba Seniors Advocate. Though the event was originally intended to be a honk-a-thon rally, the MHC decided to move things online due to concerns over COVID-19 numbers.
Folks are encouraged to take further action by calling Cameron Friesen, the provincial Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living and writing letters to their MLAs about the need for better supports for older adults.
Brianne Goertzen, the provincial director of MHC, says the goal of the virtual event is to bring attention to the systemic issues that seniors face in Manitoba. One of the key goals to combat these issues is the establishment of a Manitoba Seniors Advocate.
“We thought the best way to use the UN International Day of the Older Person would be to draw attention to the issues that are currently plaguing our older adult and senior population,” Goertzen says.
A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) co-authored by Goertzen states that a Seniors Advocate would act as a centralized entity advocating for the interests and welfare of Manitoba’s older population.
“The overarching role of the Office of the Seniors Advocate is to monitor and analyze seniors’ services and issues in Manitoba,” she says. “They make recommendations to governments and service providers to address systemic issues.”
Goertzen argues that the need for a designated Seniors’ Advocate in Manitoba has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She says a jump in exposures to the virus in senior care homes in Manitoba and other provinces has become a major issue.
“That creates a myriad of problems, not just for the residents in care, but also the caregivers that try to visit their loved ones within those facilities,” she says. “I think that COVID has exposed the need for a comprehensive, systemic examination of what we’re doing for our older adult population.”
Carol-Ann Borody-Siemens is the president of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). She says there are over 40 seniors’ groups and organizations that exist in Manitoba, advocating for a diverse array of seniors’ interests. She agrees that a Seniors Advocate would help elevate and centralize the needs of seniors.
“A Seniors Advocate would allow the government to streamline that process,” she says. “What we’re asking for is a Seniors Advocate with direct access to a minister. By doing that, you get direct access to the legislature.”
While seniors’ issues may not affect some Manitobans now, they could play a significant role later in life. With the aging population increasing, Borody-Siemens says amplifying the voices of older adults is crucial.
“The work we’re doing today is for the people who are seniors today, but also for the seniors of tomorrow,” she says.
Goertzen agrees with this statement. “Now more than ever, we need a public solution to address the issues that are affecting our older adult population,” Goertzen says.
Published in Volume 75, Number 04 of The Uniter (October 1, 2020)