Health minister Julie Green last week reaffirmed the Northwest Territories’ commitment to creating a strategy that betters serves and cares for the NWT’s Elders.
In the legislature, Green said the strategy would be created before the current government’s term ends in 2023. She had led calls for an Elders’ strategy as a regular MLA, then became the minister responsible in September.
The strategy will be designed to address gaps in services for seniors and improve coordination between government departments.
In June, Green led a motion setting out the basics of such a strategy. On replacing Katrina Nokleby in cabinet, she told Cabin Radio delivering on that motion as the minister of health and social services was a personal priority.
“I am passionate about this issue because I have a lot of seniors in my life, and I have a lot of seniors in my constituency,” Green said last week.
“I have lots of interactions with Elders and seniors and have an idea of what some of their needs are, so that was really a driving motivator for me to put the motion forward in June.”
Some of the gaps include a lack of reliable transportation for seniors between their homes and stores or recreational facilities, and the need for more personal support workers who help with day-to-day activities like grocery shopping or checking mail.
The biggest issue identified by Green is affordable housing.
“As an alternative to being in institutions and long-term care, we know that there’s a lack of housing in which seniors can live independently,” she said.
Ageing in place
Without affordable housing options, fewer seniors will be able to “age in place with dignity” – a cornerstone of the territory’s overarching mandate and the motion advanced by Green in June.
Ageing in place refers to the ability to live independently, for example in a family home or condominium, with help from a range of programs and services.
“I know my colleagues have heard from seniors that their preference is to remain in the community they have spent their lives in, and to remain in the homes they’ve spent their lives in,” Green said.
“This is the reason there’s a priority to assist seniors in their home: so they can stay there as their first choice, and having to move to a different place in order to obtain nursing care is a last resort when circumstances require that.”
In October, Yellowknife seniors’ care centre Avens received $38.8 million from the federal and territorial governments to construct Avens Pavilion, which is expected to offer 102 units including affordable housing options.
Beyond Yellowknife, however, ageing in place becomes harder in smaller communities where both adequate housing and support services aren’t as easily accessed.
According to Green, work on the strategy has begun but remains in a preliminary stage. Her department plans to hire someone dedicated to developing it, and consultation – with the public, seniors’ organizations, and communities – is coming.
“We want to hear from Indigenous Elders, we want to hear from non-Indigenous Elders, we want to hear from 60-year-olds, we want to hear from 80-year-olds,” the minister said. “We want to hear from the whole Elder population.”