• Carmen Marie Fabio

Area seniors voice their concerns at the federal level


PHOTO COURTESY THE OFFICE OF MINISTER DEBORAH SCHULTE

Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke (top left) along with the federal Minister for Seniors Deborah Schulte (second from left) took part in a Zoom meeting this week to answer questions and listen to the concerns of seniors in our region.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many residents' concerns to the forefront, notably those who are the most vulnerable in terms of health and personal finances, and the group of citizens who form the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Seniors' Council addressed some of their concerns this week to Deborah Schulte, the federal Minister for Seniors.

Organized through the office of Vaudreuil-Soulanges Liberal MP Peter Schiefke, the committee which meets quarterly is comprised of roughly a dozen regional residents and they connected with the minister via Zoom on Monday, August 17 for a roughly one-hour meeting to pose questions on a number of senior-related issues.

“This was an opportunity to listen to concerns of the constituents and provide direct feedback,” said Schiefke's Communications Director Jenn Frezza of Schulte's participation in the round table discussion.

Isolation

Committee member and Vaudreuil-Dorion resident Deirdre Potash raised the issue of isolation, particularly prevalent since the virus outbreak. As a teaching artist, Potash lost all her contracts and revenue stream in March but said what's been more difficult is the loss of contact with her students and her social circle.

“My main concern is isolation,” she said. “There are friends I haven't seen for five months.” Due to health concerns, she didn't even step into a store for months on end.

Isolation for seniors is not a new issue. A Statistics Canada report issued in 2014 cited not only the negative mental and physical health issues of isolation but the domino effect that extends to the greater community. “The social isolation of seniors can cause communities to suffer a lack of social cohesion, higher social costs, and the loss of an unquantifiable wealth of experience that older adults bring to our families, neighbourhoods and communities,” the report states.

“The minister indicated there is money being earmarked for this issue,” said Potash. “Even before COVID, the idea of isolation – as it ties into mental health – has been studied.

“I was honoured to be part of the meeting,” Potash added. “I feel like I, and everyone else who took part, was being heard.”

Housing concerns

“Besides taxation on old age pensions and isolation, one of the topics talked about was housing,” said Île-Perrot resident and committee member Wendy Doran who recounted the minister discussing a federal/provincial partnership for seniors' housing.

Doran, along with fellow committee member and Saint-Lazare resident Fiona Watts, are both parents of autistic adult children. As reported in The Journal November 22, 2018, the pair has been lobbying both provincial and federal government representatives to ensure continuity in care for all adult children with special needs once their parents (typically their primary caregivers) are too advanced in age to continue to care for them. Their foundation titled ‘Un toît pour nous’ is comprised of parents who are seeking to build and maintain home-like environments in which they feel confident to house and care for their children after they, as parents, are no longer able to.

“We want to see if solutions in senior housing could possibly be used for our kids as well,” said Doran, adding that many parent caregivers are in the same boat across the country. “We all know someone who is struggling.”

The pandemic has added an extra burden to the senior parents as many of the day programs their children would attend, even if on a part-time basis, have been suspended since the outbreak.

“The minister was speaking specifically about seniors but it blends very nicely with our project,” said Doran who added she was optimistic following the discussion and felt the minister was open to creative solutions, possibly a public/private commitment to have a specialized facility available for her daughter and others in the same situation.

“We're happy to pay a certain amount but it's an impossible proposition without government support.”

PHOTO COURTESY THE OFFICE OF MINISTER DEBORAH SCHULTE

Federal Minister for Seniors Deborah Schulte described the Zoom meeting with the area seniors as a 'fantastic conversation.'

Feedback from Minister Schulte

Reached later the same day, Minister Schulte described the Zoom meeting as a “fantastic conversation” and though her team members have their ear to the ground, she said it doesn't compare with listening to constituents directly.

The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 virus has added to the concerns of the elderly and Schulte said the Liberal government has been proactive in issuing pandemic relief funding and offering tax credits paid directly to seniors along with $500 million provided to organizations which support seniors.

“In terms of long-term care, even though it's not our jurisdiction, we have been there to support the provinces and territories,” Schulte said, outlining measures to identify guidelines to help organizations keep seniors safe and provide funding to address the short supply of Personal protective equipment (PPE) to front-line healthcare workers to the tune of $2 billion. An additional $4.5 billion has been designated for more PPE purchases for future needs. Schulte said all funds are part of a $19 billion total in the ongoing battle against the pandemic which includes $754 million relegated to vulnerable residents in long-term healthcare.

When it was pointed out that the federal military personnel who were dispatched to help deal with the pandemic crisis in seniors' homes – particularly in Quebec and Canada – were the ones to raise the alarm about the deplorable conditions the residents were subjected to, and that the problem had been known for some time, Schulte paused.

“The pandemic has certainly revealed the cracks and weaknesses in the system,” she said. “Many (seniors' residence) buildings are older and don't meet current standards, and our long-term workers have not been earning a living wage. The pay subsidy is a short-term fix that needs a long-term solution.”

Viable solutions for disabled adults

The Journal asked Minister Schulte about the dilemma faced by parents like Doran and Watts whose respective ages and health make it increasingly difficult to care for their children.

“We certainly recognize this is a challenge and the parents need support,” Schulte said, offering that a possible solution may be modelled after an organization in her own community of Vaughan, Ontario.

Named 'Reena' the group of homes that now numbers three along with sustaining partnerships in long-term care homes in neighbouring cities was, “... established in 1973 by a small group of parents of children with developmental disabilities as a practical alternative to institutions,” according to www.reena.org.

The organization is currently getting funding from both provincial and federal levels of government to accommodate people who have specialized needs, like Doran's and Watts' daughters.

“Parents who have a vision have come together to determine how they can provide for their kids in the long term.” Schulte added that while the current focus is on addressing the pandemic, “I can assure you, Minister Carla Qualtrough (Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion) has been working very hard on what else we need to do to help parents and to help families struggling with these circumstances.”

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