Comment: Pandemic shines light on needs of the elderly

A commentary by the executive director of the Greater Victoria Eldercare Foundation, gvef.org.

There are so many difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and there are even some unexpected benefits. An unexpected benefit that we see at the Eldercare Foundation is the attention the virus has brought to the inequities faced by so many of the elders in our communities.

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The even greater challenge we see is finding the ways and means to continue to support the long-term care hospitals and community outreach that has been our mission since 1982.

It has always been a basic tenet of the Foundation to provide homelike enhancements, innovative therapy programs and specialized equipment to 700 seniors in Island Health long-term care hospitals and in recent years, we have also been providing funding for adult day programs, education, respite, and more to the general community.

For the most part, those who we provide for are seniors in need of financial assistance, the group of seniors who are so vulnerable, especially during this pandemic.

While our long-term care facilities have thankfully been spared the tragedy that other facilities have suffered, the lack of social connections and family visits that keeps them safe threatens the emotional and even physical health of seniors here.

It is truly heartbreaking to see couples, married for decades, try to visit through technology they don’t understand, particularly when one suffers from dementia.

As the pandemic evolved, the Eldercare Foundation reached out to the community with the urgent need for phones and tablets to connect long-term care residents with their loved ones, equipment to facilitate small group activities, and funding to clear our SAFE Lifeline wait list so at-risk seniors in need could remain in their own homes safely.

Thanks to a $14,000 grant from the Victoria Foundation’s Rapid Relief Fund, Scotiabank’s $10,000 matching gift appeal, a donation of tablets from Telus, and the generous support of our donors, Eldercare has been able to fill many of these urgent needs for our seniors and lessen some of their fear and anxiety.

Even though Eldercare is currently experiencing success to meet the urgent needs arising from this pandemic, we are concerned about what the future holds for small local charities like us.

We are also concerned about what the future holds for seniors who will remain high-risk even as the country slowly reopens.

With the added expense of grocery premiums, delivery fees, private transit, increased prescription fees, and the loss of many free supports from community organizations, seniors on fixed incomes are struggling.

Life for seniors in long-term care will also look different as safety precautions and new requirements are implemented. Eldercare’s role in providing funding for the programs and items that enhance quality of life will be more important than ever during this transition.

As the success of the many pandemic relief efforts in our community is growing, we also know there is only so much our community can give.

This casts uncertainty concerning how it will affect donor streams for smaller charities like us that rely mainly on the generosity of individuals.

Eldercare is not government funded and with just 21Ú2 staff and a 10-member volunteer board of directors, we don’t have the resources nor the budget to sustain top of mind awareness and feed the pipeline with new donors should we experience a sudden decline. We are not an accumulating foundation, which means we raise the funds and put them to work immediately.

With pandemic restrictions slowly lifting, we are hopeful that our community still has the capacity and urgency to give so the Eldercare Foundation, and other small charities like us, can not only meet our core commitments but can remain a viable, impactful community resource.

Seniors have given so much over their lifetimes and it is Eldercare’s mission to ensure they can live out their lives with the dignity and respect they deserve.

The lack of priority in helping seniors and their heightened vulnerability is finally starting to make the headlines, and that’s an unexpected pandemic benefit we hope will shine the spotlight on our often forgotten seniors and the importance of the Eldercare Foundation’s fundraising efforts – both now and in the future.

How we treat our most vulnerable truly defines who we are and it is our hope that as individuals and communities, as a province and as a country, we support our elders. A society is measured by how it cares for its elderly citizens.

Together we can ensure Canada measures up.

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