Personal Best: Seniors advocate takes office

Isobel McKenzie wants to hear from B.C. seniors on their concerns

Isobel McKenzie, first B.C. seniors advocate, was greeted by a large crowd at Schubert Centre April 24 anxious to hear what they could expect from this new office.

McKenzie brings more than 20 years of experience working with seniors to the table and is very articulate and well aware of the problems that are and have been a concern for many years. Currently voters over 65 years make up 17 per cent of the population in B.C., with projections showing that by 2031 those over 65 will represent 25 per cent of our population. This is one large voting block that could easily influence political outcomes. The appointment of this advocate is a wise political move by the provincial liberals.

McKenzie knows her stuff and has already produced two reports plus appointing 30 members chosen for a Seniors Advocate Council of Advisers from regions across B.C. These council members will be key volunteer advisers to the advocate and her office. In her first report, The Journey Begins: Together We Can Do Better, she looked at quality and accessibility of key services to B.C. seniors. “The current situation, with information scattered across a number of ministries, health authorities and service providers and with varying degrees of reliability and transparency, is clearly not meeting the needs of seniors,” she states. She will introduce independent, standardized province-wide satisfaction surveys for all residential care facilities, home support and HandyDART services.

“I will go directly to the seniors who use these services and ask them what is working, what is not working, and how services could be improved.” She says. Wow! If she does nothing but this we will all be big winners,” she said.

Her second report, Placement, Drugs and Therapy…We Can Do Better dealing with premature placement in residential care, overuse of drugs and lack of rehabilitative therapy for seniors in residential care found that up to 15 per cent of B.C. seniors who are living in residential care may be incorrectly housed, with assisted living or community care being more appropriate options. This is very big news and changes the long-held perceptions of the need for more residential beds and the high costs involved and how these resources could be better used.

The second issue that the data highlights in the report and one expressed by many family members is the overuse of medication, particularly antipsychotics. If 34 per cent of residential care clients are being prescribed antipsychotic medication, yet only four per cent have a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, why are they being given these major mind altering drugs? About 47 per cent of residential care clients are being prescribed antidepressant medications, while only 24 per cent of these clients have actually been assessed as having depression. Again why and for whose convenience?

The third issue is the significant lack of rehabilitative therapies in B.C.’s residential care facilities. The Office of the Seniors Advocate will be addressing these, and other emerging systemic issues that affect seniors in several upcoming reports. The advocate’s review of seniors’ housing in the province will also be released in late spring. The Office of the Seniors Advocate is now open and is seeking public input into seniors’ issues in B.C. Visit or call 1- 877-952-3181 toll-free or email

Happy Mother’s Day to all those mothers who have produced offspring, or loved another’s child or taken care of a lonely one or have been part of a loving friendship to another. The definition of the word mother, for me, is giving love unconditionally so this day honours all those who can and do this every day of their lives.

If you have questions or comments email: or phone 250-542-7928.

Pat Black writes about issues of concern to seniors in the North Okanagan, appearing every other Sunday,