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Seniors lacking in services: report

Sea to Sky Corridor senior citizens have few choices when it comes to support, and unless programs expand, it may only get worse.

Sea to Sky Corridor senior citizens have few choices when it comes to support, and unless programs expand, it may only get worse.According to the United Way report, "Moving Towards Age-Friendly Communities," the area's seniors have the highest projected population increase in the entire Lower Mainland/Sea to Sky region, yet they face the most limited array of services.The report's findings, which were presented in Vancouver Monday, Nov. 17 at the United Way Seniors Forum, indicate that the Howe Sound Local Health Area's over-65 population is projected to increase by 244.2 per cent by 2027. And 46 per cent of those seniors live in Squamish, with 28 per cent in Whistler and 8 per cent in Pemberton."The small and youthful communities of the Sea to Sky Corridor will experience the region's largest percentage increases in their seniors' population over the next two decades," states the report. "The lesser but equally significant gains in the number of seniors aged 75+ and 85+ will far outpace those expected elsewhere in the region. "More seniors' services are called for to meet the demands of an aging population in this area."The report also identifies some startling social service needs. The seniors' services needed in most municipalities include household support, such as cleaning, laundry and yard maintenance, as well as advocacy, financial services and education and training. In the Howe Sound health area, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Sea to Sky Community Services are the only organizations providing senior services. And out of 11 service sections, only four are represented: health support, in-home support, counselling, and information referrals. "We know that our region already faces gaps in the social services needed to support the unprecedented growth in our seniors' population," said Michael McKnight, United Way of the Lower Mainland President and CEO. "The good news is that we hold the power to transform our community. Now is the time to work together to prepare for and support an aging society."In 2007, one in every eight people living in the Lower Mainland/Sea to Sky was 65 years of age and over. In 20 years, according to projections, the ratio will be one in every five. That means 2,183 of the most vulnerable corridor residents are short on services.VCH's Home and Community Care manager for the Sea to Sky, Marion Biln, said the organization is aware of the projected growth in seniors. Planning is already in progress to address the growing needs to 2027."[In Squamish] we've got 20 new subsidized living spaces that are going to be open in the summer of 2009 as well as expanding residential care at Hilltop House, so there's lots going on," said Biln.And in Pemberton, in addition to core services, VCH has just hired a seniors housing co-ordinator that will be doing outreach work with seniors in the community."We're partnering with the municipality on doing a needs assessment around seniors housing," she said.VCH is also planning an expansion of chronic disease management programs for seniors living in Whistler. A nutritionist is already in the community to help chronic disease sufferers. The corridor is also the only area in the VCH region with a community pharmacist, said Biln. "So we're really excited about that program. I think certainly we've got a very solid plan for moving forward." But there's still more to be done, she said."I think we're going to have to evolve the plan as things change we do want to be responsive to concerns as they come up and work in partnership with other organizations that may be providing supports to seniors as well."In that vein, Biln said she was "really pleased" to receive the United Way report and research, and suggested work could be done in tandem to address seniors' issues. "I'm always excited when the United Way is involved because hopefully identifying this as a need, perhaps they'll put some initiatives forward. It's very exciting actually. I really feel like calling them."

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