Posted on Feb 19, 2021


EDMONTON - Seniors urgently need an independent advocate because of the deadly spread of COVID-19 in Long Term Care and Designated Supportive Living facilities and the challenges in navigating seniors services during the pandemic. 

As of yesterday, 1,173 residents of Long Term Care and Designated Supportive Living have died due to COVID-19. Low staffing and support have led to increased isolation and neglect for residents and seniors. The UCP have rejected repeated calls by the NDP for a public inquiry into these deaths.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on why reforms in continuing care and seniors services are so desperately needed,” said NDP Seniors and Housing critic Lori Sigurdson. “Jason Kenney and the UCP have repeatedly run away from questions regarding the crisis in continuing care and are ignoring the real need for change. An independent seniors’ advocate, with investigative power, would bring transparency and clear direction on how  to make seniors' lives better.

An independent seniors’ advocate would be able to influence public policy while also helping individual seniors navigate complicated government systems. A seniors’ advocate would also have investigative power, similar to the Alberta Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, to ensure seniors’ services are accountable. British Columbia has an independent seniors’ advocate who has provided recommendations throughout the pandemic.

Doug Martin is the vice president of the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) which promotes equitable access to healthcare, financial security, and freedom from ageism for older Canadians. CARP is calling for independent seniors’ advocates in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta.

“A seniors’ advocate’s role should be twofold. They must champion individual seniors’ issues and effect systemic change within government,” said Martin. “To do this well, they should be independent to make recommendations freely without political interference.”

Linda Burns’ mother-in-law has dementia and needed accommodation in Designated Supportive Living during the pandemic. 

“Navigating continuing care and understanding how to navigate available services is deeply complicated,” Burns said. “It was difficult to find a home for my 96-year-old mother-in-law with dementia. Once we finally found a home for  her, there were more and more frustrations to deal with everyday. We had to make phone calls to her facility to request help with simple things like taking wrappers off utensils and taking the lid off her coffee because she cannot do that herself. I don’t know how a senior is expected to manage in this province without an advocate.”

While in government, the NDP established a seniors’ advocate. The UCP cut this program in 2019 indicating that the Health Advocate would take on the health concerns of seniors.In October of 2019, Health Minister Tyler Shandro personally cancelled the process to recruit a qualified advocate and appointed Janice Harrington, a former executive director of the United Conservative Party.

“While the Independent Seniors’ Advocate in BC is providing real answers and exposing problems in the system, Janice Harrington remains silent in Alberta, protecting her political allies while epically failing Alberta seniors,” said Seniors’ critic Lori Sigurdson.