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Posted: April 3, 2021

Study reveals seniors’ services agencies stepping up

The United Way of the Lower Mainland has released a study that showcases how community agencies have kept older adults safe at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those agencies is Cranbrook Better at Home, which is pleased to be a part of B.C.’s proactive, dedicated Healthy Aging team, which is doing great work to advocate for and support B.C.’s seniors.

There are several Healthy Aging programs throughout the East and West Kootenay.

Since March 2020, Cranbrook Better at Home – including 56 volunteers – have provided over 1,700 services to 283 unique older adults and have provided countless supports and information for caregivers and other community-based service providers.

How a network of community agencies across the province pulled together to keep older adults safe is the subject of a new report entitled Rising to the Challenge: How B.C.’s Community-Based Seniors’ Service Agencies Stepped Up During COVID-19.

Commissioned by the United Way’s Healthy Aging Office in partnership with the Community Based Seniors Services Leadership Council, the study was undertaken by Dialogues in Action, who gathered data to measure the effectiveness and responsiveness of the province-wide, community-led response to support seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The experiences of living through a pandemic has shown us that, with the right supports, community agencies can rise to the challenge,” said Kahir Lalji, Provincial Director, United Way Healthy Aging, said, “We can strengthen vital connections with each other, with government policy makers and funders, and through other partnerships in the public and private sector. Finding new patterns of collaboration, seeking out partnerships across jurisdictions, developing relationships that reflect the diversity and dynamic nature of our communities – this is the future.”

Rising to the Challenge provides insight into the vital role played by community, specifically the community-based seniors serving sector (CBSS) sector, in meeting needs of the public when it is recognized and properly resourced by all levels of government and other funding bodies.

The report identifies four key challenges and opportunities, as well as a way forward:

  1. A system-wide strategy is needed to identify and connect with the most vulnerable seniors.
  2. The pandemic revealed the digital divide. Many agencies mobilized and got devices and training to users, but there will continue to be a digital learning demand for seniors.
  3. Volunteers are essential to the CBSS sector. Many volunteers are themselves seniors, so there was an uptick in the number of middle aged and younger adults who stepped in early during the pandemic. Going forward, agencies will need to find and retain a more diversified cohort of volunteers and staff.
  4. Partnerships and collaborations played a critical role in the sector’s successful response to the pandemic, but partnerships don’t just appear out of nowhere; they must be built and nurtured. Time and resources are needed to develop new and innovative partnerships.

Marcy Cohen, Co-Chair of the United Way’s CBSS Leadership Council said, “These agencies are embedded in their communities, and because they know their communities so well – and care about them so deeply – they threw all their heart and energy into this effort.”

Cohen went on to say, “While many of these groups work together informally in their neighbourhoods, it was a government funded, community-coordinated response to the pandemic that brought everyone together in such an organized and effective way.”

The research study included individual and group interviews with over 100 staff, volunteers, and partner organizations, eight focus groups and a survey. It features case studies about successful partnerships and stories from seniors themselves, some of whom talk about the heartbreak they encountered during the pandemic. Despite the difficulties, the report clearly illustrates that community agencies who provide non-medical services to seniors are such an important part of the continuum of care.

The Rising to the Challenge executive summary is available here and the full report here.

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