The Sunshine Coast Seniors Planning Table - Seniors' Social Isolation

Program
Location
Sunshine Coast, B.C.
Type of Program
Information, Referral, & Advocacy
Social Connectedness
Wellness & Mental Health

The Sunshine Coast Seniors’ Planning Table (SCSPT) is a program of the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre. Formed in 2015, it brings together over 20 organizations, agencies, the community, and all levels of government and includes close to 100 individuals to listen and respond to the needs of seniors on the Sunshine Coast.  

The focus of the SCSPT is currently on seniors’ social isolation, but issues such as ageism, poverty, illness, elder abuse and neglect, transportation, and housing have also been addressed by several action groups. Over the past years, the Planning Table has hosted meetings and conferences with two federal Ministers for Seniors, as well as the Seniors Advocate of BC. 

In a 2015 article from The Coast Reporter, Sunshine Coast Community Foundation Chair Cam Reid notes that “Seniors’ issues are a key feature of the Foundation’s 2014 Vital Signs Report, which drove the decision to select the Seniors Planning Table as one of the initiatives to fund.”  

Sunshine Coast SPT Projects and Programs:  

LGBTQ2+ Seniors  - Last fall a survey and needs/gaps assessment of the senior members of the LGBTQ2+ Seniors community was conducted with funding from the New Horizons for Seniors Program. The project wrapped up at the end of March with the development of a sensitivity training module that will be offered to local organizations. A final report with findings and recommendations has been widely distributed via various media channels and can be read here: https://resourcecentre.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/LGBTQ2-Summary-and-Report-FOR-THE-WEB.pdf 

Caregiver Support Network  - Last year, a member of the community made a significant donation to develop a project that would create supports for caregivers of adult family members or friends. Since its launch in August of 2019, the Caregiver Support Network has received over 100 calls. 

Peer Navigators - In the Spring of 2019, a large group of volunteer peer navigators was trained on resources for seniors on the Sunshine Coast and on how to provide this information and referral to other seniors in the community. 

Seniors Community Action Committees Provincial Working Group - In 2018, the Seniors Planning Table was invited to sit on the new Seniors Community Action Committee’s Provincial Working Group funded by the United Way of the Lower Mainland. The Working Group has created an inventory and a map of Seniors Planning Tables in the province and is continuing its work. 

Age-Friendly Plan - In 2016, the District of Sechelt contracted the Seniors Planning Table to create an Age-Friendly Plan. 

The Isolation of Canadian Older Adults report: The Sunshine Coast Resource Centre’s Seniors’ Planning Table recently completed a study of social isolation in 2019 which was widely distributed. Here’s how Isobel MacKenzie, BC Seniors Advocate, responded: “I wanted to congratulate the Sunshine Coast Seniors Planning Table on producing a great report. It raises some very important issues relating to seniors’ isolation and the negative effects isolation can create. Thank you for highlighting this issue and for the solutions suggested in the report. I hope you won’t mind if I quote from it at times.” 

Funded by the District of Sechelt, the report on Isolation in Canadian Older Adults outlines core aspects of isolation, how it differs from loneliness, and what can be done. “The purpose of this report is to raise awareness of the importance of the issue of social isolation, to illuminate the causes and to offer some ideas for solutions which have been shown to have an impact and could be implemented locally. “ 

The report explores the risks associated with isolation (physical and social), the impact of isolation on the physical and mental health of seniors, and the increased costs of isolation to the health care system. It also looks at the human cost to our community as a whole when an isolated person isn’t included and valued. Interestingly, the report also looks at aspects of social innovation.

According to the SCSPT, “Social innovation means developing new partnerships between sectors, as well as planning and implementing ideas with private and non-profit organizations in addition to public institutions (such as libraries, schools, school boards, recreation facilities and all levels of government), all with the goal of effectively addressing issues at the community level. These are some of the core principles of successful socially innovative approaches:  

• committing to working together to meet the particular needs of the community;  

• welcoming a diverse set of new partners to create a web of community interventions that support each other and build from strengths (e.g., aligning existing assets, programs, initiatives, funding, expertise and experience);  

• adjusting activities, services and programs to new audiences;  

• drawing on expertise and resources across sectors (business, community, individuals and government);  

• being open to taking risks in order to achieve significant and lasting results; 

 • relating solutions to changing attitudes and behaviours as well as to structural, institutional and systemic change; and

• using new technologies.” 

In looking to the future, the goal of the Sunshine Coast Seniors Planning Table is to raise awareness and inform the community about the issue of isolation among older adults. They propose a process of: “community engagement in various areas of the Sunshine Coast and with specific groups in our communities, articles in newspapers, the production of newsletters, and so forth, all addressing the following themes: 

• “What is the difference between loneliness and isolation?” 

• “I feel isolated. What can I do about it?” 

• “My neighbour seems isolated. What can I do about it?” 

• “Am I at risk of being isolated?” 

• “As a community, what can we do to address seniors isolation?” 

The full report is here: https://resourcecentre.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/5_Social-Isolation-Report-Canadian-Older-Adults-2019.pdf 

COVID-19  - Since the onset of Covid-19, the SCSPT, led by the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre met virtually on April 17 to address the consequences physical distancing measures are having on seniors in our community, as well as to discuss what can be done. The current concerns are linked to findings of the Isolation in Canadian Older Adults report and at no other time has its content been more relevant. 

From the Coast Reporter, May 1, 2020: “According to Michelle Bruecker, Seniors Initiative's Manager and Coordinator of the Caregivers Support Network Program, while technology has been a lifeline for so many in these times, many older seniors are not able to afford internet costs or become familiar with the necessary digital tools to get the help they need. Bruecker said this is preventing seniors not only from connecting, but from accessing potentially life-saving information.” 

In addition, Sue Elliott, a Resource Centre Board member and SPT Co-chair, said another issue is around sustaining a feeling of community. “The health crisis has led to closures of gathering places and other resources for seniors including community centres, support groups, coffee shops and parks,” Elliott said. “These were important links for many who felt isolated even before the health crisis.”  

Although we can celebrate the variety of initiatives rapidly put into place on local, provincial and federal levels, she added, there is still much more that must be done to prevent further crises among our aging population, particularly for those who already may have faced barriers on a day-to-day basis. Telephone tree programs, like those offered by Sunshine Coast Community Services’ Better at Home program (604-865-0114), Vancouver Coastal Health’s Home Care Services (604-741-0726) and the Pender Harbour Health Centre (604-883-2764), or simply taking the time to call or write a note, can help seniors stay connected to their communities. 

The SPT meeting also discussed how many seniors often act as caregivers to their spouses, parents, or friends, adding layers of complexity and stress to an already challenging situation. These areas can include but are not limited to household chores, financial responsibilities, work related to medical care and supervision, and palliative care management.  

Bruecker explained that at the best of times, most caregivers – seniors or not – find themselves not only stressed to exhaustion but overwhelmed with emotions of grief, loss, and guilt. She said "this often leaves little energy or time for social connection outside the home or virtually. Now in the climate of COVID-19, this feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to recharge is exacerbated.“ 

For COVID-19-specific community information, visit the Sunshine Coast Community Task Force website: https://scctaskforce.com/ 

This fall, SCSPT is to be featured in a CORE webinar that will discuss the Seniors’ Planning Table’s history and its impact, as well as an overview of the findings of the isolation report and subsequent updates since the pandemic.

The Seniors Planning Table operates under the leadership of the Community Resource Centre, with the financial support of the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation and the Sunshine Coast Credit Union.