As It Happens

Postal workers can play a vital role in helping senior citizens: report

Dr. Samir Sinha says Canada Post mail carriers could help older people live safely and securely in their own homes by adding an elder care check-in to their delivery routes.

National Institute of Ageing cites programs in Europe, Japan that support seniors' wellness, ease loneliness

Postal worker seen from the back as he puts mail into a mailbox at a suburban house entrance.
A postal worker delivers mail in Ottawa. A new report pitches a plan that would see posties adding a little elder care to their delivery routes. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Many people count on postal workers to arrive on time and deliver the mail. Now doctors are saying they might be able to do much more, by making scheduled stops to check in on senior citizens along their routes.

"Individuals who might benefit from it, and may want this service, could actually have a postal worker not only deliver the mail, but also offer to have a chat and a check-in just to see how they're doing," Dr. Samir Sinha, the co-author of a new report by the National Institute of Ageing, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

The white paper, titled Special Delivery, points to similar programs that have found success in Japan, France, and the Isle of Jersey, U.K.

"They're very popular with a lot of older people, including the children of older people who are worried about their mom and dad," Sinha — the head of geriatrics for Sinai Health and the University Health Network in Toronto — said. 

He added that such a service could become an additional source of revenue for Canada Post, which posted a $227-million loss last November as the volume of physical mail sent and received continues to dry up.

'How are you doing today?'

Postal workers who take part in Jersey's Call & Check program have a short conversation with people who have been signed up for the service, asking them a list of five questions as part of their mail delivery routes. 

"They just start by a simple question of, 'How are you doing today?' But they also ask people, 'Are you having any trouble with your medications?'" Sinha said.

Or, the postal workers might ask their elderly clients if they have any concerns they might want to pass onto the local community leaders or family members.

A woman in a mail delivery outfit, wearing a Santa Claus hat, delivers mail in front of a suburban house's entrance.
A Canada Post letter carrier delivers mail in Burnaby, B.C., on Dec. 21, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Jersey's Ministry of Health subsidizes two visits per week for anyone signed up for the program, but participants can pay for additional visits that cost $11.10 each.

Other programs, such as those in France and Japan, are paid subscription services.

Spencer Naylor, the other co-author of the report, told CBC's Ottawa Morning that the name of Japan's program translates to "watch over," while the French version, "Veiller Sur Mes Parents,"  means "watch over my parents," more specifically.

"It's ... not necessarily keeping tabs on your parents, but certainly making sure that they are getting service, help that they need, and supplementing their support that they would be giving or receiving from other sources in the community," he said.

"Eventually, it becomes something that they are looking forward to in the week. It's another ... social interaction for people who may be lacking social interaction."

Some versions of the service already exist in parts of Canada. Postal workers in Prince Edward County, Ont., may take part in the Letter Carrier Alert program, checking in on seniors and other vulnerable populations. The program, which has been around since the 1980s, is an unpaid volunteer service.

Canada Post mum on proposal

In a statement, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) was supportive of the National Institute of Ageing's proposal.

"It would be good for the seniors and others who need it, and good for Canada Post, which is mandated to expend services to meet the population's changing needs," CUPW national president Jan Simpson said.

According to Statistics Canada, Canada's population aged 85 and older has doubled since 2001, and may reach 2.7 million people by 2050.

Dr. Samir Sinha says Canada Post mail carriers could help older people live safely and securely in their own homes by adding an elder care check-in to their delivery routes. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Canada Post, however, has yet to comment on the proposal — either to CBC or to Sinha, who said he's reached out to them multiple times to weigh in.

He noted that Canada Post still makes special accommodations to deliver mail to older people and others who cannot regularly access a post office or community mail box.

"The infrastructure's there. We've got a dedicated workforce, and it's a workforce that 87 per cent of Canadians trust to deliver their mail and therefore actually can trust to also potentially deliver a service like this," he said, citing a 2015 French-language Leger poll. 

Sinha stressed that a Canadian version of the Call & Check program isn't intended to replace services provided by the health-care system, nor is it trying to convert postal workers into nurses or health-care workers.

For one, postal workers aren't allowed to enter a person's home while on duty, so their tasks would be limited to the conversation and questionnaire at the door. (This isn't like France's model, where they might come inside and chat over tea for half an hour.)

"This is a way we can leverage [groups outside] our health-care system to support the prevention of loneliness and isolation, and provide valuable preventative support," Sinha said.

CUPW's Jan Simpson echoed Sinha's position.

"What we advocate for is not for our postal workers to get into health care, but for our members to connect people with the services they need — which could be a whole range of needs, medical and otherwise — as postal workers in Jersey U.K., France and Japan already do," he said.


Jonathan Ore


Jonathan Ore is a writer and editor for CBC Radio Digital in Toronto. He regularly covers the video games industry for CBC Radio programs across the country and has also covered arts & entertainment, technology and the games industry for CBC News.

With files from Ottawa Morning. Interview with Samir Sinha produced by Kevin Robertson.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?