Seniors’ society wants new government approach to elders

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The NWT Seniors’ Society and the territorial minister aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on how to tackle issues affecting the aging population.

Barbara Hood, executive director of the NWT Seniors’ Society, speaks to MLAs Friday at the legislative assembly. Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo

The society is lobbying the territorial government to come up with an all-encompassing NWT seniors’ strategy that would bring together existing policies, frameworks and strategies affecting older adults.

But Glen Abernethy, minister responsible for seniors, says the government already did that work three years ago.

“As far as developing a new seniors’ strategy, it’s not something we’re prepared to do at this point,” said the minister.

He said a document tabled during the last legislative assembly, called “Our Elders: Our Communities,” is “essentially our territorial seniors’ strategy.”

The GNWT has since completed a long-term care review, tabled its Continuing Care Services Action Plan and is collaborating with the seniors’ society on a disabilities framework, said Abernethy.

“Quite frankly, it seems like we should be doing the work, as opposed to more strategies or frameworks,” he said.

Barbara Hood, executive director of the NWT Seniors’ Society, is looking for something more holistic.

However, MLAs were skeptical during a meeting Friday that the territorial government will commit to making a seniors’ strategy before the end of its term in two years from now.

Hood offered instead for the society to take the lead on adapting a national strategy to meet the NWT’s needs, with financial support from the territorial government.

She cited a Canadian seniors’ strategy produced by the Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy in 2016 as a good starting point to work from.

“I think what you’re hearing is that it’s going to be very difficult to try to fit this in in the last two years of our mandate,” said Kevin O’Reilly, MLA for Frame Lake. “So my advice is take whatever funding you can get and start the work yourselves. And if it does mean building on what’s been done at the national level and looking at some things that have been done in the provinces … you can start to do some of that work yourselves.”

Hood said she believes having an NWT seniors’ strategy is important because it would allow for better coordination of resources and allow older adults’ voices to be heard in a more “central way.”

She added she would want an NWT seniors’ strategy to address issues like aging in place, elder abuse and seniors’ safety – something Hay River MLA R.J. Simpson touched on during the meeting when explaining how business entrances in his community are often inaccessible to elderly people.

“I think it’s the feeling within government … a lot of work has been done in many areas and there is no need to duplicate things,” said Hood, following the meeting.

“I believe that if we can bring the voices of elders in communities and community groups who are struggling with the same issues that we are in a collective way, that it would be a strong partnership and a very strong vision could be brought out of that in the NWT for a seniors’ strategy.”

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