British Columbia

B.C. announces more support for seniors, caregivers during COVID-19

British Columbia's Office of the Seniors Advocate has announced an additional $500,000 to help seniors and the caregivers who support them. 

Last month the province agreed to expand 211 phone line to match seniors with volunteers

Isobel Mackenzie is the seniors' advocate for British Columbia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

British Columbia's Office of the Seniors Advocate has announced an additional $500,000 to help seniors and the caregivers who support them. 

Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said the funding will go to the Family Caregivers of British Columbia, a non-profit that supports seniors and caregivers. The funding will expand the help line and expand the organization's virtual tool kit. 

"Family care-giving can be intense for people," MacKenzie said during a media briefing on Sunday. "It can be stressful in the best of time."

Mackenzie says there are hundreds of thousands of people in the province who provide support for seniors so they can remain at home, including at least 30,000 people who provide more intense care like bathing and feeding. 

Many of the measures put in place to combat COVID-19 have inadvertently impeded many improvements made for seniors in the province, she said. 

Caregivers often rely on respite care like adult day programs, short-term overnight care and caregivers for respite, Mackenzie said — programs that have since been cancelled or curtailed because of COVID-19. 

Mackenzie said caregivers and seniors can connect with additional help by calling 211, 1-877-520-3267, or visiting the Family Caregivers of British Columbia website.

"Please don't try to shoulder this burden on your own," she said. "There is support, you are not alone." 

'Added weight and worry'

The province said the additional $500,000 doubles the province's support to the Family Caregivers of British Columbia for a total of $1 million this year.  

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the funding expands the province's commitment to support the safety of seniors during the pandemic. 

"Many B.C. seniors count on their spouses, children and close friends to help them stay at home and manage chronic conditions," Dix said in a written statement. 

"The circumstances of COVID-19 have added weight and worry to the task." 

Opening care homes to family visits

Mackenzie also said she and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry are looking at "safely" opening up care homes to some form of visits from family members.

"One of the very important pieces is that family members are, first of all, able to support their loved one in the care home, and secondly are able to be reassured of what is happening in care homes by being the eyes that see and the ears that hear what is going on in the care homes," she said.

On Saturday, Henry said there hadn't been any new outbreaks in long-term, assisted living or acute care facilities over the previous day.

In total, 19 facilities and three acute-care units have active outbreaks, she said, while outbreaks have been declared over at 11 care facilities.

'We have to make that effort'

Mackenzie said there are exemptions made for palliative and compassionate care when visiting restrictions are in place.

She will be speaking with care homes to look at that language and make accommodations where they can, she said.

"They could find a way ... for families to be with their loved ones when they are dying," Mackenzie said.

"People going a year or more without seeing their spouse or their adult children, I think is tragic and I think we've got to find a way — we have to do it safely. I think we have to make that effort."

5,500 sign up to volunteer

In March, Mackenzie said the province agreed to expand the 211 phone line for community services to match seniors who need help coping with the strains of COVID-19 isolation with volunteers who want to help.

On Sunday, Mackenzie said since then about 5,500 volunteers have made 2,957 grocery deliveries, conducted 12,193 virtual visits and delivered 2,782 meals. 

"It is very heartwarming," Mackenzie said. 

Last month Mackenzie also said the province was also going to increase funding for the Better At Home program, which helps seniors remain independent at home and stay connected with their community.

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

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