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Glen Abernethy: Seniors’ Programs

Mr. Speaker, November 6-12, 2014 is National Seniors’ Safety Week and it is a good opportunity to remember the important role that Seniors and Elders play in our communities.

Elders are the heart of our communities, providing guidance, care for children, and serving as volunteers.  But as they age, Seniors often require a greater level of support than others.

The Government has taken several steps to restructure our system so that it is responsive, comfortable and efficient when it comes to meeting the needs of Seniors. 

Mr. Speaker we are not alone in trying to find innovative ways to offer programs and services for Seniors. Every province and territory is facing a growing Seniors’ population, and working to find ways to support Seniors so they can remain in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.  At a recent Health Ministers meeting I heard firsthand the challenges my provincial colleagues face in providing care to an aging population.  We share those challenges and also face our own unique issues.

Elders who live in small, remote communities do not have access to the same range of services, medical care and social supports, that are available in larger centers. Seniors may also experience a variety of limitations that hinder their ability to connect with family and friends and participate within their communities, resulting in social isolation. These limitations may be due to personal circumstances as well as barriers at a systemic level.

We have considerable work to do, however we have made some great strides for Seniors. In November 2013 we completed a continuing care review providing us with key information on our current continuing care services and direction to take in moving forward in a focused and supportive way to reduce barriers and address gaps in care and service delivery. We also released a Strategic Framework, “Our Elders: Our Communities”, in May 2014.

Mr. Speaker, Our Elders, Our Communities, will help guide our actions as we work together with external partners and other departments to ensure Seniors can live safely and independently as active members of our communities. Rather than developing one single action plan, we will develop multiple action plans focusing on different priority areas that support aging in place and long-term care.

The GNWT already has a number of programs that help Seniors continue to live independently and participate in their communities while staying in their own homes or rental units; including providing public housing to eligible Seniors through the NWT Housing Corporation. Rents for Seniors, who receive the Canada Pension Plan income, in public housing are capped at a maximum of 80 dollars to help to ensure that affordability issues do not limit their ability to continue to live independently.   For Seniors with additional income, the first 1,000 dollars per month is exempt in calculating rent.  There are presently about 650 Seniors living in public housing.

Seniors who own their home may take advantage of the Housing Corporation’s CARE program, which provides financial assistance for making necessary repairs and enhancements to homes. The Corporation also provides assistance to homeowners to undertake preventative maintenance or emergency repairs. Seniors with disabilities may also receive assistance to make accessibility modifications, like installing grab bars or wheelchair ramps, to support independent living. Through the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, low to modest income Seniors may apply for a home heating subsidy that helps them with the cost of heating their homes. Education, Culture and Employment also offers the NWT Senior Citizen Supplementary Benefit to low income Seniors to help pay for living costs. The program provides a monthly payment to Seniors and is automatically available to eligible Seniors who are receiving Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement or the Spouse’s Allowance from the federal government.

Seniors who own their homes are also eligible to apply for property tax relief under the Senior Citizens and Disabled Persons Property Tax Relief Act.  This program is administered by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and aims to support Seniors who want to remain in their homes as they age. Applications for property tax relief are accepted on an annual basis and can be picked up at community government offices and regional Municipal and Community Affairs offices.

Ensuring that Elders in small communities receive all of the support and services to which they are entitled is an important role performed by Government Services Officers.  Government Services Officers in 18 small communities conduct weekly visits to Elders and provide support, often in the Elder’s Aboriginal language.   This can range from opening and reading mail, assisting Elders in making applications or renewing eligibility for both territorial and federal programs, to connecting Elders with other service providers in their community.

The Department of Health and Social Services is working in partnership with community organizations like the NWT Seniors’ Society to identify other ways to help, like programs to help people shovel walkways or get groceries to help them live in their homes for as long as they can.

In addition to the efforts to strengthen home and community care services, we must review and prepare for the increasing demand for facility-based long-term care including dementia and extended care and to improve and enhance supports for respite care, palliative care, geriatric assessment and restorative care.

We’re expanding our complement of long-term care facilities so that this service is available in every region, allowing our Seniors and Elders to be closer to their families and their homes, which we have heard is what they want.

We are in the process of adding new long-term care beds in the NWT. New facilities in the communities of Behchoko and Norman Wells will provide 27 additional beds within our territorial system to support our aging population.

We established a dedicated territorial dementia facility four years ago to support Seniors who have developed dementia and to support their families in dealing with this devastating disease.

We have made other improvements to care delivery and supports for Seniors.

We have updated our continuing care standards, to ensure consistent service delivery across supportive living, home care and long-term care programs no matter where you receive services. We are continuing focused work related to our Falls Prevention Program, which includes the development of effective tools to prevent falls in the homes of older adults. We have established focused activities related to home care safety through an integrated approach to case management and coordination of services. We are piloting a Flexible Respite Model which will allow us to gradually expand caregiver support services to communities across the NWT.

I am especially proud of our partnerships with the NWT Parks and Recreation Association and the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to deliver the Elders in Motion Program. This Program is a series of fitness training programs to enhance their ability to lead active lifestyles.

We are also partnering with the NWT Housing Corporation to introduce supportive living housing for Seniors in small NWT communities. The design of these facilities will allow barrier-free independent living accommodations with a common space for delivering social programs, meals, Elders in Motion and home care supports.  Construction of these new Seniors independent living facilities are starting this year in Aklavik, Fort McPherson and Fort Liard. These facilities will contain nine units including the caretaker. Similar facilities will be built in Whati and Fort Good Hope in 2015-16.

We are partnering with AVENS through a joint steering committee on their AVENS Pavilion expansion plans. This steering committee is working on the documentation required for the government for consideration in the capital planning process.

We will be looking to other jurisdictions for their best practices, in particular how to support and promote aging in place.  We continue to participate in federal, provincial, territorial working groups, and look forward to the Council of the Federation Chair’s Initiative on Aging to look at the impacts of an aging population on Canada’s social and economic future. We will also look to the dementia research being carried out by the Canadian Institute of Health Research on behalf of federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Health to help guide our own efforts.

We will continue to strengthen our home and community care services, and respond to the increasing demand for facility-based long-term care, including dementia and extended care. We need to improve supports for respite, palliative, and restorative care as well as geriatric assessment.

Working together with our many partners we can support our Seniors and Elders so that they can continue to make valuable contributions to our communities.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.