Blog: Responding to Edmonton Seniors’ Needs During a Pandemic

February 19, 2021

When the first known case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Canada a little over a year ago, not a lot was known about the virus. By the time a global pandemic was declared in March 2020, trends were becoming clearer. The health impact was greatest on those with pre-existing conditions and people over the age of 70. With this in mind, responding to the needs and concerns of Edmonton’s seniors during a pandemic was of paramount importance.

The Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council, the City of Edmonton, and SAGE Seniors Association set up a Coordinated Pandemic Response (CPR) Model to address seniors’ needs and ensure they were not isolated, that their basic needs were being met, and that they had access to health care, information, and resources to keep themselves safe. The focus was on critical services which included food and transportation, outreach, and psychosocial programming.

Recently, the CPR Steering committee released a summary report reflecting on its work from the start of the pandemic in mid-March 2020 up until mid-November 2020. The report captures a moment in time and lists various initiatives undertaken by a number of seniors serving organizations in order to keep their clients safe and supported. During this eight-month period, seniors serving organizations in Edmonton received about $1.8 million in emergency funding from the federal and provincial governments to enhance or expand their services, which was instrumental in meeting the needs of seniors. The funding was used by agencies to provide supports such as the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), tax preparation, emergency food hampers, and essential goods delivery/pick-up.

Although there were a number of successes in meeting the needs of seniors, there were a number of challenges identified. These challenges included virtual meeting burnout, a lack of resources and funding to contribute to the coordinated efforts, the need for clarification on the model and its purpose, and on top of that, the need to simultaneously incorporate and apply equity and anti-oppressive frameworks into ongoing work. In addition, the pandemic has impacted many seniors who reported increased social isolation, elder abuse, worsened mental health, and continued challenges in meeting their basic needs. Seniors living in intergenerational households were at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Furthermore, caregiver burnout and staff shortages were also identified as contributing to, and exasperating, these risk factors.

Despite the many challenges faced by seniors and seniors serving organizations, these pandemic responses have facilitated increased collaboration and partnerships between groups, and have increased engagement with seniors (through reach and scope) since shifting to virtual program delivery.

Looking back at all of these efforts, it is commendable to see organizations’ ability to adapt, innovate, and creatively work together to respond to the changing needs of seniors during a particularly difficult period. Although this response was designed to meet the needs of seniors during a time of emergency, there will no doubt be lessons learned that can be adapted and implemented in the long-term when we plan for a post-pandemic future. These adaptations will allow us the opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure that seniors are no longer left behind.

Reference: “Coordinated Pandemic Response for Edmonton Senior Serving Community: Summary Report of Model Reflections to Nov. 2020”

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