Seniors’ advocate would serve Manitobans well

If it’s not too soon to point to a positive result of the pandemic crisis, light has been shone on the dire plight of many seniors. Now that we know, we also know this: there is a need for Manitoba to finally establish an Office of the Seniors Advocate.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/02/2021 (603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If it’s not too soon to point to a positive result of the pandemic crisis, light has been shone on the dire plight of many seniors. Now that we know, we also know this: there is a need for Manitoba to finally establish an Office of the Seniors Advocate.

It’s possible many Manitobans were previously unaware of the inhumane conditions endured by vulnerable members of this province’s older generation. But claims of “I didn’t know how bad it was for seniors” lost all credibility in the past year, as attention was focused on institutional tragedies that are the shame of Manitoba and many other provinces.

We won’t soon forget — and we shouldn’t — the accounts of seniors in long-term care homes lying helpless in their beds, sometimes lodged in the same room with residents who were infectious with the virus, sometimes left in soiled bedclothes as their agonizing calls of help went unanswered in institutions that were poorly staffed and maintained.

We won’t soon forget– and we shouldn’t – the accounts of seniors in long-term care homes lying helpless in their beds.

Who spoke for these victims? Distressed family members went to the media in an attempt to advocate for their loved ones, hoping the publicity would embarrass the appropriate authorities into action, since the complex functioning of government is too often impenetrable to those on the outside.

Helping seniors cope with COVID-19 would have been a top priority for a seniors’ advocate office, if Manitoba had one.

The provincial government has been repeatedly offered, and has seemingly ignored, advice to create and empower such an advocate. The Liberals pushed for it in 2016. The Manitoba branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives last June published a well-researched paper on the importance of such a position. The NDP joined the call at a media briefing last Tuesday.

The commendable proposal — at least, it seems commendable to everyone except the government with the power to make it happen — would staff an office dedicated to the interests of seniors. It would speak for the aforementioned residents of long-term care homes but, more widely, it would expose systemic challenges facing all seniors and raise awareness of available resources.

The advocate’s office would have independence, investigative power and dedicated funding. It would report publicly to the legislature, not privately to the government.

The advocate’s office would have independence, investigative power and dedicated funding. It would report publicly to the legislature, not privately to the government.

For example, the advocate could highlight the need for the provincial government to make public the regular reports of inspections of care-home facilities, bringing Manitoba in line with other provinces where such inspections are public — information that is valuable to the families of residents of these homes.

If this proposed framework of the seniors’ advocate’s office sounds familiar, it’s because it resembles the Office of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, which has operated since 1992.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister now has an opportunity to put his words into action by leading his government in the creation of a seniors’ advocate.
While the seniors’ advocate would benefit all Manitoba seniors, not just those in long-term care homes, the past year’s horror stories, which described nothing short of institutionalized inhumanity, should be the tipping point that finally convinces the provincial government of the need to give seniors a voice of power.

The maxim “respect your elders” may be a cliché, but the sentiment still means something for many Manitobans. Premier Brian Pallister seemed to echo that attitude earlier in the pandemic when, with tears in his eyes and emotion in his voice, he expressed great concern for the pandemic dangers faced by Manitoba’s seniors.

Mr. Pallister now has an opportunity to put his words into action by leading his government in the creation of a seniors’ advocate. It’s a much-needed and overdue step toward giving older Manitobans the dignity they deserve.

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