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Ask questions, speak up, seniors’ advocate says

Dr. Suzanne Brake.
Dr. Suzanne Brake. - File photo

Dr. Suzanne Brake talks to Clarenville Rotary on seniors’ issues

CLARENVILLE, N.L. —

The Newfoundland and Labrador Seniors’ Advocate wants people of the province to ask questions and offer suggestions on ways to improve their lives.

Dr. Suzanne Brake is the province’s first seniors’ advocate, and was guest speaker for the Clarenville Rotary Club luncheon on Monday, May 6.

Brake says she’s had discussions with seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador who have needs and concerns ahead of the upcoming provincial election.

The biggest takeaway she wanted to convey was for people of the province, no matter their age, to both ask questions and make suggestions on how things should be done.

However, Brake was very clear that her position as seniors’ advocate is a non-political one. The insight she provided to Rotary, was merely based on conversations she’s had with the public on their biggest needs in the future, as well as submitted concerns in the form of petitions and other media.

As the appointed advocate for the province in November 2017, the role of her office is independent. Its goal is to identify, review and analyze systemic issues impacting large numbers of seniors, and make independent recommendations on changes to improve seniors’ services. These services include programs or systems of support related to health care, personal care, housing, transportation and finances, as examples.

“It’s always been an area I’ve gravitated towards,” said Brake at the meeting.

Some of the systemic concerns she’s been hearing about have to do with quality of care in the long-term care sector, which also includes placement of family members in facilities.

There are concerns for individuals in the public, as well, not just those who are in care facilities.

“We don’t have an oral-care program anymore for low-income seniors,” said Brake.

She says, while there was previously one, there is a need for such a program again.

“We can’t divorce our mouths from the rest of our bodies,” she says.

Housing is also a recurring issue for seniors, says Brake.

She’s hearing from people who say access to services in convenient areas is important.

“There’s a lot of people who, if they could have affordable, accessible, energy-efficient, smaller kinds of places where they could afford to live, I think that that’s a big thing.”

She commended the Clarenville area for steps the community has taken towards affordable housing and worthwhile age-friendly initiatives, like the CREST bus which provides transportation for seniors and those with disabilities.

“That gives people independence!”

With struggles that include worry surrounding rising electricity costs and availability of home support, Brake referenced other programs she deemed worthwhile, like the former home-share program in St. John’s.

This saw younger people co-habitating with seniors as a means of support. Brake says proper funding and staff is required for such a program, which can’t work being solely run by volunteers.

Among all the concerns she’s hearing, Brake thought it important to touch on positives as well.

In fact, she says one of the biggest problems with seniors is the ageism that goes along with needing supports within communities.

She calls the idea of seniors being a burden “generational angst” which should be addressed as the discrimination that it is.

One of the many good things for seniors in the province is the stability they’ve had throughout their lives leading up to today.

In fact, Brake says 83 per cent of seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador own their own homes.

She also says the home repair program through the provincial government is an excellent idea, but she would like to see it be more robust to become more substantial and help more people.

Brake will be releasing an official report in June on the findings and official recommendations of her office.

Jonathan.parsons@thepacket.ca

Twitter: @jejparsons

Who is Dr. Suzanne Brake?

Dr. Suzanne Brake (BSW ’79); MSW (’98); PhD (2010) has a lengthy history of involvement in the area of aging and seniors.

She has clinical, managerial, administrative, teaching, research and policy experience.

In 2015, Dr. Brake was awarded the Canadian Association of Social Workers Distinguished Service Award. Her past work, volunteer experiences, education, personal involvement with family and her role as Director, Seniors and Aging Division; and Provincial Director, Adult Protection, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, have prepared her to be the inaugural Seniors’ Advocate of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOURCE: Clarenville Rotary Club

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