Isobel Mackenzie, who led B.C.'s largest not-for-profit community- and senior-serving body for nearly two decades, has been named the first seniors advocate in the province – and the country.
In her new role, the former executive director and CEO of Vancouver Island-based Beacon Community Services (BCS) will monitor seniors' services, promote awareness and work collaboratively with seniors, families, policy makers, service providers and others to identify systemic issues that affect seniors and make recommendations to government, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said at a news conference on Wednesday.
"I am very confident that we have found the best person for the job and a strong voice for British Columbia's seniors," Mr. Lake said, noting Ms. Mackenzie was selected from more than 130 applicants.
Ms. Mackenzie has worked with seniors for about 20 years at the local, provincial and national levels. Since 1995, she helped grow BCS – then called Peninsula Community Services – from a small organization into one of B.C.'s largest community providers, with more than 1,300 staff members and 400 volunteers. During her time there, she introduced a new model of dementia care, called Licensed Dementia Care, which has been adopted across the country.
From 2007 to 2011, Ms. Mackenzie also served as B.C. director for the Canadian Home Care Association.
"I have seen first-hand the issues, the challenges and the choices facing our seniors, their families and their caregivers," Ms. Mackenzie said on Wednesday. "I have witnessed the profound desire of seniors to maintain their dignity and their independence. And on more than one occasion, I have been humbled by the reminder that seniors are individuals who have their own ideas about how they see themselves aging."
Ms. Mackenzie starts her new role in the Office of the Seniors Advocate on March 31, working with a budget of approximately $2-million. Among her first tasks will be consulting with seniors and stakeholders, hiring staff and assembling a council of advisers.
"Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen," she said. "And it will be guided by the wisdom of seniors and those who champion their needs."
There are more than 700,000 people in B.C. over the age of 65 and that figure is projected to double over the next 20 years, according to BC Stats, the province's central statistical agency. Put another way, seniors currently make up about 16 per cent of B.C.'s population; that figure is expected to climb to nearly one-quarter by 2034.
In 2009 and 2012, B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter released a scathing, two-part report on seniors' care in the province, finding a wide range of problems that included inconsistent measurable regulatory standards in residential care facilities and long waiting times for seniors to be assessed.
The provincial government responded in 2012 in part by creating the Seniors Action Plan, which included the goal of appointing a seniors advocate. It introduced the legislation to create the position one year later, in February, 2013.
Ms. Carter made 176 recommendations in her report. Last November, the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives published a policy brief stating that, of 140 recommendations specifically directed at the B.C. Ministry of Health, only 6 per cent had been fully implemented.
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