Paying family or friends to care for seniors and people with disabilities could become standard, a seniors’ advocate said, as a pilot program began in several NWT communities.
A select number of Elders and people with disabilities in six communities will receive help with cleaning, running errands, and other needs, provided by paid caregivers.
Caregivers can be family members, friends, or community members. People in the program can select the caregiver they wish to have.
The two-year pilot has eight participants in Behchokǫ̀, five in the Yellowknives Dene communities of Dettah and Ndilo, and eight in Yellowknife. Soon, eight participants will join the program in Hay River and five in Tuktoyaktuk.
As the NWT’s population of seniors grows, the president of the Yellowknife Seniors’ Society told Cabin Radio the pilot program could become the standard of care for seniors and those with disabilities, allowing them to age in place and stay in their community.
“I’m really quite pleasantly surprised to see it get started,” said the society’s president, John Soderberg, of the pilot.
“Right now it’s kind-of hit or miss, depending on who shows up and whether they prefer to do dishes or vacuum,” Soderberg said. “But under the pilot program, I’m expecting a high level of service to the clients and then, over time, that becomes the norm for the program. That’ll benefit a lot of people.”
Participants in the program have access to a paid caregiver for up to four hours a week, helping them with tasks that allow them to be independent in their homes.
Those tasks include cleaning, meal preparation, hauling wood, snow removal, running errands, and shopping.
Suzette Montreuil, executive director of the NWT Seniors’ Society, said seniors who own their homes often express the need for help shovelling snow, doing yard work, and other home upkeep.
‘Seniors want to be in touch’
The ability to select a family member or friend as a paid caregiver is transformative, said Lynn Elkin, executive director of Inclusion NWT – which is the service provider for the pilot in Yellowknife.
Elkin said family members ordinarily often care for relatives at their own expense. “Sometimes those activities mean that family members are giving up paid work in other places in order to do that,” she said.
“And of course, that’s part of what you do as a family – but it can become a lot.”
The program can also help people who are isolated, or don’t feel comfortable asking friends or family members for help with things home care doesn’t cover, Elkin said.
The NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services said caregivers require a criminal record check. Elkin said “person-dependent” training is provided for each person hired. That training could include first aid, training regarding slips and falls, or instruction in how to provide support at medical appointments.
Having this type of assistance will help seniors age in place, Montreuil said, an issue identified as one of the 22 priorities of the incoming territorial government. In the NWT, seniors who cannot live independently currently often don’t have the option of remaining in their community. Instead, they must move to regional centres where more care is available.
“The way the allocation system works, if you’re eligible for a unit and the unit comes up, it doesn’t matter where the unit is,” said Soderberg. “That’s where you go.”
This could mean a senior from the Gwich’in region, for example, must move to a home in Fort Smith – potentially taking someone from their culture, language, family, and other social connections.
“It’s a setback seniors really don’t need at that age,” Soderberg said. “They want to be able to be in touch, culturally and socially, with their great-grandchildren and children and their friends. It just makes sense.”
The program is meant to complement existing health care and home care services.
After a two-year pilot, the NWT government will review the program and consider “permanent, territory-wide implementation.”
The territory’s population of seniors has nearly doubled since 2003 to a little under 6,000. That figure is expected to grow to almost 10,000 by 2035.