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Newfoundland and Labrador seniors' advocate says age-old issues need to be addressed

The province’s first seniors' advocate, Dr. Suzanne Brake, speaks at a news conference at her office in St. John’s Wednesday morning.
The province’s first seniors' advocate, Dr. Suzanne Brake, speaks at a news conference at her office in St. John’s Wednesday morning. - Rosie Mullaley

In her first major report, Dr. Suzanne Brake says changes needed, long overdue to address low income, housing and health care concerns for older population

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Imagine being in your so-called “golden years” and not having enough money to heat your home, or being so poor that you can’t afford one.

Imagine struggling to hear because you can’t afford a hearing aid, being unable to eat because dentures are too costly or being unable to read or watch TV because you have no money for glasses.

Those are harsh realities faced by many older people in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Dr. Suzanne Brake is determined to change that.

“I actually had a woman come to me after a 50-Plus Federation (Seniors NL) session and she brought me her (broken) dentures on her hand and showed me. … She just did not have the financial resources to get them repaired. That is shameful,” Brake said Wednesday during a news conference to announce the release of her first report since being appointed to the new role of Newfoundland and Labrador’s seniors’ advocate in November 2017.

“We need to do better.” — Dr. Suzanne Brake

The report — entitled “Long May Your Big Jib Draw: Setting Sail,” signifying the voyage older people take and the need to propel ahead — highlights systemic issues affecting seniors in this province and lists plans to implement change.

Brake said the report is based on what she’s heard from the many telephone calls, emails, consultations and public engagement sessions with seniors, their families and supporters throughout the province.

“It was abundantly clear to me that seniors had a lot to say,” she said.

Brake said while many seniors are doing well, many struggle to make ends meet, are treated disrespectfully and don’t know what to do.

She noted the priority areas of concern are aging in place (homelessness, age-friendly communities, affordable and proper housing, home support service, transportation, and safety and security); health care (primary health care, residential, dementia, dental, hearing and vision care, access to appointments); and labour force participation (workforce attachment, pension stability and access to benefits).

Sharron Callahan, chairwoman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Seniors Coalition, speaks to reporters at the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate in St. John’s Wednesday after a report highlighting systemic issues affecting seniors in this province was publicly released.
Sharron Callahan, chairwoman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Seniors Coalition, speaks to reporters at the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate in St. John’s Wednesday after a report highlighting systemic issues affecting seniors in this province was publicly released.

Brake said one of the most shocking issues has been homelessness.

“It’s hard to even say those words — that there are seniors in our province who are experiencing homelessness …. or living in substandard living arrangements,” said Brake, adding that half of the people who access services from The Gathering Place are over 50 years old, while one in four are 65 or older. “We need to do better.”

The list of 25 plans of action include advocating, reviewing and monitoring progress to ensure changes are implemented. Brake said her office will make concrete recommendations in many of these areas in the coming months.

She said she will connect with government departments and agencies and key stakeholders to discuss the report and action points.

Falling behind

Sharron Callahan, chairwoman of the Newfoundland Labrador Seniors Coalition, said she has heard from many seniors who say their incomes don’t keep pace with the cost of living.

“Prices are going up, various things we all need to live just normally are being eroded,” said Callahan, adding that many seniors worry what will happen in 2021 when Muskrat Falls comes on board.

“All that has an impact on the income that people have, that they can use, to just live and maintain themselves — not in an affluent way, but just in a general, comfortable way.”

Addressing issues

Lisa Dempster, minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, and John Haggie, minister of Health and Community Services, told reporters a lot of work has already being done to address many of these issues.

John Haggie, Minister of Health and Community Services, and Lisa Dempster, Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, speak to reporters about the seniors’ advocate’s report, highlighting systematic issues that impact seniors in our province.
John Haggie, Minister of Health and Community Services, and Lisa Dempster, Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, speak to reporters about the seniors’ advocate’s report, highlighting systematic issues that impact seniors in our province.

“We have a variety of initiatives we’ve put in (place) over the last year or so,” Haggie said. “What I’d like to do now is get staff to say, well how do they line up? What are we doing that makes sense with her report and where are the gaps so we can improve things?”

Dempster pointed out that the government signed a $270-million agreement with the federal government on affordable housing in April, but there will be further steps taken.

“When we hear things like (homelessness), we’re very concerned. That’s pretty basic. People need a roof over their head and a place to call home.

“So, in the very near future we will be releasing a housing and homelessness action plan and we hope some of these things will be addressed."

The report is available on the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate website at www.seniorsadvocatenl.ca/pdfs/LongMayYourBigJibDrawSettingSail2019.pdf.

Twitter: @TelyRosie


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