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Seniors show up for advocate's forum in Castlegar

Strong turnout indicates intense local interest in seniors' issues
Seniors' Advocate Isobel Mackenzie waits as facilitator Mac Gregory lines up another questioner during June 20 town hall forum at the seniors' centre in the Castlegar Community Complex.

A story in last week’s Castlegar News gave a one-day notice of a June 20 session with B.C. newly appointed Seniors’ Advocate at the local community complex.

It was standing room only last Friday for the town hall style meeting as Isobel Mckenzie fielded a range of questions in a meeting room adjoining the seniors’ centre.

This was the last stop on a tour which had taken the advocate to 15 communities around the province and, as hinted at in the preview, issues relating to health care dominated the 90-minute event along with points made about cognitive tests involved seniors drivers licence renewals. Local seniors’ association president Mac Gregory moderated the proceedings.

“The office is new,” said Mckenzie following an introduction by Mr. Gregory which outlined her fairly extensive background in the field of seniors’ issues. Her position is apparently the first such provincial government portfolio in the country.

“I’ve been at it now for a couple of months,” she continued, “and one of the first tasks I set about doing was to inform myself about British Columbia’s seniors and their wide variety of issues depending on where they live in the province. I come from Greater Victoria, from south Island, which gives me one perspective.”

Before taking questions Mckenzie took a moment to give a nod to the work done by local MLA Katrine Conroy in her capacity as the opposition critic for seniors affairs.

“I know a little bit, from Katrine about Castlegar,” said the advocate.

The first question came from a man concerned over wait times for procedures like MRIs and knee replacements.

“What can be done,” he asked, “to give seniors better access to health care? Right now we have a year and a half waiting in this area, probably longer in others. That is unacceptable. In my lifetime of working I have spent more than $180,000 in income taxes, sales taxes, etc. I want my money’s worth right now.”

Mckenzie responded.

“The issue of wait lists for a whole litany of health care services is very complicated,” she said. “Part of it is getting the practitioners, doctors, the skilled people who can provide the services. Part of it can be the challenges found in rural communities… and some of it can be related to funding.”

A statement was made, and question asked on the topic of the treatment of seniors in the healthcare system. An incident from some time back was cited, where a couple in their nineties was separated leading to one dying within 48-hours, the other within two weeks.

“We had hoped after the uproar, that that would cease,” said a woman who described herself as a past member of an outfit called the SPCS, the society for the prevention of cruelty to seniors. After describing a similar case, she said the practice was “unacceptable, and still haunts me.”

Mckenzie agreed with the speaker, and gave the non-specific example of what may be adopted around the province.

“What I’ve been able to see in Victoria is an unbelievable support system for people to remain at home.

“I hear from seniors who are very clear: ‘I want to be as independent as possible as long as possible.’ And I see a whole suite of tools that can be provided to facilitate that, that aren’t being necessarily provided in all parts of the province.”

Mckenzie expressed empathy for seniors who face the  cognitive tests associated with drivers’ licence renewals, and said she is taking related input seriously, and into account before taking relaying those concerns to government.

At one point a man interrupted the advocate during one of her lengthy answers.

“Excuse me, but could you speed it up so more people can make their points?” said Balfour resident Craig Gray.  The advocate apologized and did her best to accommodate Gray’s request.

All told there were more questions unasked than asked, but the group appeared satisfied the advocate had its best interests at heart.

In a brief interview before Mckenzie’s departure she told the Castlegar News the one constant was people’s desire for independence... and the most striking revelation during the tour was the “different experience in the more rural areas.”