Making Bowen more age-friendly
A grant of $19,993 has been awarded to the Bowen Island Municipality with the aim to help create programs or tools that address the needs of older residents. At Seniors Keeping Young (SKY) last Monday, January 14, the discussion revolved around the concerns of senior Bowen residents. In attendance were the minister of the State for Seniors Ralph Sultan and West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre who dropped by at Bowen Court to share the news about the grant and hear from the 25 islanders who had gathered.
“Bowen Island was one of 27 winners of the grant for age-friendly communities,” Sultan said. “Only a third of all applicants received the award and it aims to make Bowen Island an even more age-friendly place to live.” Sultan explained that the grant covers a sum of just $7 shy of $20,000 and the announcement was greeted with applause.
McIntyre added that the grant money will go toward two projects: one that provides information about health care and support services and another where seniors can participate in an osteoporosis prevention initiative.
Sultan explained that the government’s strategy can be boiled down to three slogans. “The first one is: Better at home,” he said. “That means that seniors, when they were asked, said that they want to stay at home as long as possible.” The government should facilitate that, Sultan believes, because people staying at home cost the taxpayers less. “It is what seniors want and what the government finance minister wants. And that’s a happy situation,” Sultan said. Sultan added that the government has awarded a $15-million contract to United Way to examine ways to better provide non-medical services to seniors living at home.
“The second slogan is: Seniors helping seniors,” Sultan said. He explained that an assessment of the labour market has shown a shortage of people caring for seniors. “That is why it’s important to have seniors helping seniors in ways we see in organizations such as this,” he said. “Seniors who are keeping an eye on one another are commonplace in smaller communities such as Bowen Island. I believe that the government has to help institutions to keep the network of seniors alive and well.”
The final slogan Sultan mentioned is: Plan with seniors, not for them. “The needs of each community and each group of seniors are so different that cookie cutter policy coming from the government does not work well,” Sultan said. “We have to ask the seniors what works for them because good policy is based on grass roots design.”
One of the difficulties seniors are facing is the result of limited affordable housing options. “It is not uncommon for seniors to move because of the rising cost of housing, I see this with my neighbours in West Vancouver as well,” Sultan said, adding that he can see Bowen Island from his kitchen window and that he was aware of the eight-year quest to see Snug Cove House become a reality.
Sultan also spoke about the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and the government’s new strategy in working with the Alzheimers Society to focus on early intervention, before inviting comments from the audience. The first speaker addressed the issue of accessibility. “One of the problems here is walking in the streets,” she said. “When it’s slippery, it’s terribly difficult to walk. That should be fixed.” McIntyre suggested sending a delegation to municipal hall to make council aware of the problem.
A number of speakers related concerns about the availability of medical and home-care services. Renate Williams drew attention to the fact that Bowen’s ambulance station is often staffed by people in training, who are not familiar with the localities. “I experienced it once and two friends experienced it twice. They had heart attacks and I had a fall and there was a long delay in arrival [of the ambulance],” she said. “The other suggestion I have is that Bowen Island would benefit from a small day clinic. That would help people who’ve had strokes or falls.” Imke Zimmermann added that being transported by water taxi in an emergency situation can aggravate the condition. Pam Stimpson suggested better street signs and lights as well as sending someone to stand by the curb (if possible) in emergency situations.
Mary Ann Smith shared her experience of keeping her husband at home through his illness at a considerable expense. “I would also suggest having a nurse practitioner on the island,” she said. “We could also have driver volunteers, who would be paid for gas and ferry, and would carpool to take seniors grocery shopping or to the dentist.”
Marilee Yorke expressed concern about seniors who withdraw from community activities after the loss of a spouse. May Hall raised the question of how the grant application came to be successful. Sultan explained that the grants were reviewed by the Ministry of Health and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities(UBCM). They were scored on a variety of factors, including: goals, proposed activities, involvement of seniors and other key partners, budget, innovation and sustainability.
The municipality’s director of community recreation services Christine Walker said that the grant application followed an age friendly project undertaken in 2007. “The report came back with a number of recommendations and [applying for the grant this year] we used what we learned,” she said. “That carried weight.” Walker added that some of the concerns addressed by the group, such as increasing accessibility in public areas, exceeded the scope of the grants. “We realize that we are taking baby steps by taking on a couple more projects to make the community more age-friendly,” she said.
Walker explained that municipality will use the funds to develop a health care resource guide and create a telephone support line that will assist with access to the guide and other health resources in the community. The municipality will also continue to run the Bone Estrogen Strength Training (BEST) program for prevention and maintenance of osteoporosis and osteopenia. The BEST program will run for 45 weeks through 2013 and include speakers and social gatherings, a twice-weekly strength training program and ongoing support to monitor progress.
Joan Anastasiou, president of SKY, expressed her appreciation for the grant as well as the minister’s visit but said that she felt that SKY had not been part of the process. “When a lovely big grant comes in and we don’t see any of it, we feel left out,” she said. “At SKY, we like cultural things and would like some money to go out to do cultural things. But nobody talked to us about it.” McIntyre suggested sending a delegation to council to bring forward concerns and Walker added that representatives of the municipality are always open to having a conversation.
Pam Stimpson clarified that members of the Caring Circle, the organization compiling the health care resource guide, have been in contact with SKY to present the report and receive input.
Kip Anastasiou said, “We do our best to get people out and do cultural things but there is a real problem with BC Ferries. Going from the ferry to the bus is not senior-friendly, it is a long walk along the overhead walkway and a steep climb up the stairs on the ferry to the upper deck.” Anastasiou explained that embarking and disembarking on the car deck is often easier for seniors but this option is often not available. Other speakers drew attention to the fact that the lifejackets are stored on the upper deck and the doors are difficult to open.
Sultan said that he understands the concerns. He will be 80 years old in June and has seen many family members and friends grow old. He said, “But I’ve also seen a vast change in attitude toward seniors from 60 years ago and it is a change for the better.”