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Glen Abernethy: Our Elders, Our Communities: Advancing the Framework

Mr. Speaker, last May we presented Our Elders: Our Communities, a Strategic Framework outlining the Government’s commitment to support Elders and Seniors who wish to live in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, and ensure that services are available when this option is no longer viable.

As the backbone of our communities, Elders and Seniors should be supported and given the best care possible. Seniors are the fastest growing population in the Northwest Territories. Over the past decade, the Seniors’ demographic has grown at a rate of more than five per cent per year, and this trend will continue. Meeting the health care and social needs of Elders and Seniors is a high priority for our government.

Our Elders: Our Communities gives us a framework to identify gaps in our system, and where we need to take action.  Priority areas include: home and community care services; integrated and coordinated service delivery; caregiver supports; Elder-responsive communities; accessible and current information; and sustainable best practices.

The guiding principles within Our Elders, Our Communities strengthen the development of programs, services and supports to Seniors and Elders.  There are seven key principles:

Choice, means knowing that seniors can make or be an active participant in making ones’ own choices.

Respect and dignity, means that we treat Elders in a manner that imparts value, importance and self-worth.

Equity, acknowledges and celebrates the unique characteristics of Elders.

Awareness, promotes community, regional and territorial programs and services aimed at keeping Elders in their communities

Access, ensures Elders have access to culturally appropriate services and support, and access to information that allows individuals to be knowledgeable and to make informed decisions about healthy options available.

Safety, stresses safe, supportive and secure environments free of fear, exploitation and violence.

Finally, Empowerment, which refers to providing opportunities for Elders to continue to reach their full potential, with access to educational, cultural, spiritual and recreational resources, and to continue to make a positive contribution in their communities.

These principles align with the Rights set out in the Northwest Territories Seniors Charter and, together with our priority areas, provide a roadmap for the development of programs and services to support healthy and active aging within Elder-responsive communities across the Northwest Territories.

By taking action in areas identified in the Framework, we will help Elders and Seniors remain in their communities as long as possible.  The Department of Health and Social Services continues to engage the Health and Social Services Authorities and Avens – A Community for Seniors, to advance shared work in areas such as training in palliative care and approaches to care that focus on the needs of the Elder, and developing policies to support the implementation of new Continuing Care Standards. We’re also planning for new long-term care beds across the Northwest Territories, including Avens in Yellowknife.

The Department is also working with the Health and Social Services Authorities to enhance home care services.  Currently, home support is available in most NWT communities and home care is available in communities with nursing staff. Elders’ day programs are available in several communities, which provide an opportunity for Elders to socialize and have a nutritious meal, as well as participate in Elders in Motion, an active living program offered by the NWT Parks and Recreation Association.  Keeping healthy, active, and connected to each other is critical to wellbeing and programs like these play an important role in Elders’ lives.

I am pleased to report that new facilities are being built and resources are being developed to help Seniors achieve a high quality of life. The Department of Health and Social Services is working with the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to address independent housing needs in our communities, and incorporate space for home care and Elders’ day programs into the designs for new Seniors’ housing units.

Any improvements to our programs are not possible without partnerships.  The Department of Health and Social Services has also been working with the NWT Seniors Society and the Departments of Justice, Municipal and Community Affairs, Education, Culture and Employment, and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to update the Seniors’ Information Handbook.  We are also developing a companion booklet for caregivers.

The Seniors’ Information Handbook provides a comprehensive list of government programs and services that seniors and their caregivers can access to help them make informed decisions and remain independent and active in their home communities.

The companion Caregiver Booklet will provide information to assist families caring for their loved ones. The plan is to release these documents this spring.

Another example of collaboration is the Aurora Research Institute’s recently released report titled “Influences on Quality of Life of the Older Adult” in the Northwest Territories. Working directly with the NWT Seniors’ Society and communities, Aurora College faculty and students gathered valuable, current information on the quality of life of Seniors and Elders across the Northwest Territories that can help support informed decision-making and direction for leadership, advocacy, education and research.  Later today I will table this report.

Taking action in priority areas to improve the programs and services for Elders will not be a short-term undertaking, Mr. Speaker.  The Department’s work is ongoing and will continue through transition.  We have established numerous partnerships to help ensure Seniors receive the support they need. As we move forward, we will continue engagement with Aboriginal governments, non-governmental organizations and community members to ensure our programs and services are delivered in the best way possible.

Together, we are working toward our vision of aging in place, and Best Health, Best Care and a Better Future for residents of the Northwest Territories.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.