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BC Seniors Advocate visits Quesnel-says more needs to be done for rural seniors

In one of her final stops before retirement, BC Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie was met by a full house at the Elder Citizens Recreation Association in Prince George today (Friday).

The visit came under 24 hours after she released a report titled  ‘Resilient and Resourceful: Challenges Facing BC’s Rural Seniors.

Mackenzie hosted an open meeting covering the report for a room of 50-60 senior citizens who were given the time to ask questions or comment afterwards.

She was also in Quesnel later in the afternoon.

“The report and what we have been able to quantify, I think it has really provided a cohesive voice for all of rural British Columbia,” Mackenzie said – noting most of the province is rural as 86% of the population live on just 4% of BC’s land mass.

She listed some challenges seniors living in rural locations face, including lower property values and incomes, less access to acute care, family physicians, long-term care, home support, and transportation costs to get to major centres.

“Whichever way you measure it, it is giving a cohesive voice to rural seniors to say ‘look, we are British Columbians too, this is our province, and we should be able to experience more of the supports and services that are available to those that live in urban centres.’”

She said attracting people to rural BC to provide these services was a key topic in her Prince George meeting.

“The way you do it for Vancouver is not going to be the way you do it for Prince George, Valemount, or Mackenzie,” she said. “Most British Columbians are living in urban BC, and it is leaving behind people in rural BC to a greater extent.”

Another issue that local seniors raised to Mackenzie was a difficulty in finding affordable senior housing or care homes.

“We have a provincial strategy that works for 86% of the people – that sounds great unless you are part of the 14% that lives in the other 96% of the province,” she said.

“Housing is a good example. For many years nobody thought about it, housing was affordable in rural BC, you could move and buy a house. Well, things are different. There are people that don’t own houses in rural BC and there are no places for them to rent,” she explained. “In rural BC, particularly when we are talking about seniors, they can sell their house but there is nowhere for them to move to.”

The report notes “There are 55% fewer publicly subsidized long-term care beds per 1,000 rural population (65+) and a median wait time to access a publicly subsidized long-term care bed that is twice as long as seniors in urban B.C.”

Her hope is that government gets involved with this issue, saying “in urban BC if you have a single family home and you sell it you can go buy a condo. The government doesn’t need to get involved. The private sector may come in and build some condos, but in some outlying communities there isn’t enough. Government is going to have to come in and find a way to support these seniors.”

Mackenzie’s report came with seven recommendations to the province:

  1. Develop and Implement a Rural Seniors Housing Strategy.
  2. Develop and Implement a Rural Health Human Resource Strategy.
  3. Develop and Implement Rural Seniors Home and Community Care Strategy.
  4. Develop and Implement a Provincial Long-Term Care and Assisted Living Plan based on equity throughout the Province.
  5. Develop and Implement a Provincial Rural Transportation Strategy.
  6. Improve and Better Promote the Provincial Travel Assistance Program and Hope Air.
  7. Increase Rural Representation in Government through the creation of a Ministry or Minister of State for Rural B.C.

You can read her full report here.

The importance of local seniors councils, especially in more rural places, was also stressed by Mackenzie.

“They’re out there living the experience… local governments in rural BC need who are making decisions about seniors need to hear from the seniors to ensure that what sounds like a good idea is actually going to be a good idea,” she explained. “Usually if you listen to the people impacted, you will find what you have on paper will match what will work in reality. It is when you don’t listen that we sometimes produce things that don’t go over so well.”

Mackenzie announced in May of 2023 she would be retiring from her position at the end of March 2024.

Dan Levitt will take over the role at that time.

-files by Will Peters-MyPGNow

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