Canada’s population is aging.
According to Statistics Canada, the next two decades will see the proportion of seniors aged 65 years and older in the population grow rapidly as the baby-boom (1946 to 1965) population bubble reaches its senior years. By 2030, the year in which the youngest baby-boomers reach 65, one in four persons in Canada will be 65 years of age and over.
For Victoria, the numbers are slightly higher as the gentle climate and breathtaking scenery combines with a less hectic lifestyle to attract many retirees to B.C’s capital region.
It’s within this demographic reality that the Office of the Seniors Advocate has undertaken a survey of 27,000 seniors living in 300 residential care facilities across B.C.
“This is being done in an effort to help improve the quality and conditions of our long-term care facilities. There are going to be an increasing number of these facilities and this is the first comprehensive look at what the experience of long-term care home residents is like. It’s important so we can identify what, if any, systemic problems exist in the system,” said Isobel Mackenzie, B.C. Seniors Advocate.
Mackenzie stressed the importance of the comprehensive approach of the survey.
“We get a lot of anecdotal and individual communications but it’s very difficult to know whether the problems being represented are coming from a vocal minority or if they reflect a real problem area for a lot of people,” she said.
More than 250 volunteers have signed up to be a part of the residential care survey team and there are still a range of volunteer opportunities available for the project, according to Sara Darling, communications director. The Office of the Seniors Advocate is looking for individuals from diverse backgrounds, ages and ethnicities to allow for the collection of information from an equally diverse set of survey respondents across the province. All volunteers are screened and, if found suitable, are given a one-day training session. They must commit to at least 30 hours of volunteer time over the course of the next four months.
Successful volunteers then meet with seniors at long-term facilities in face to face meetings designed to be conversational and comfortable and not at all like an interrogation.
“The stories I’m hearing from seniors so far are so interesting,” said volunteer Kitty Yan. “The ability to engage in conversations with residents is like meeting with old friends. The process has been very rewarding.”
As a part of those conversations, residents are asked a range of questions on a wide spectrum of topics such as the quality of food, how they view care staff, privacy, comfort, personal relationships medications and activities within the facility. The resident’s answers are confidential.
“It’s our intention to provide an overview of current conditions in the homes and to help identify problem areas and provide suggestions of how the long-term care homes might be more responsive to resident’s needs,” said Mackenzie.
The results of the survey, which will be posted publically, are not intended to be accusatory in nature at all, added Mackenzie, but to act as an impetus and roadmap for improvements in the quality of care and services provided to residents in personal care as well as for their families.
“The home care providers have been very supportive of the survey. They want to know what they are doing right and where there might be room for improvement. This method helps them to get solid information on how they’re doing and what needs to change . . . information that’s hard to glean from residents who might not want to complain or who, alternatively, complain about things pretty regularly,” she said.
The survey and its methodology were designed through a 14-month process involving key stakeholders including facilities, health authorities, family members (of care home residents) union representatives community groups, and academic experts from across the country. The National Research Corporation of Canada has taken on the role of survey vendor.
Mackenzie explained that past studies of long-term care homes have tended to approach those facilities as though they were hospitals, tracking things like rate of infection.
“We’re looking at these care homes as exactly that… people’s homes. This is where people live and their concerns about food, comfort, activities and privacy may be more important to them than rate of infections.”
For more information on the survey, or to volunteer to be a part of the survey go to surveybcseniors.org or call the Office of the Seniors Advocate at 1-877-952-3181.