Thank you Mr. Chair, and thank you to the members of the committee for your interest in the impact of COVID-19 on older adults.
On behalf of the members of the National Seniors Council, I want to provide our sincerest condolences to Canadians who have lost a parent or loved one during this pandemic, and our thoughts go out to family members who have been separated from their relatives in long-term care facilities for the past 13 or 14 months.
In addition to my role as chairperson of the National Seniors Council, I am a registered nurse, for the past 30 years, with experience in aging and community health, currently involved in vaccination efforts against COVID-19; a professor at the school of nursing at l'Université de Moncton, where I also hold a research chair in population aging from the Consortium national de formation en santé, studying aging in place and director of the centre on aging.
The National Seniors Council was created in 2007 to advise the Government of Canada, through the Minister of Seniors and the Minister of Health, on matters related to health, well-being and quality of life of older adults. The council currently has 11 members, including me, who come from a wide variety of sectors related to aging, including academia, social and health sectors, community and front-line organizations and the private sector. In developing its advice to ministers, the council undertakes a range of activities, including commissioning research, consulting with older adults and stakeholders across the country and convening expert panels and round tables.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the council was in the process of implementing a three-year work plan covering 2018 to 2021. The work plan had four main priorities: first, identifying measures to reduce crimes and harms against seniors; second, examining potential objectives and elements of a national seniors strategy; third, developing an age-friendly healthy aging policy lens to potentially examine federal policy and initiatives; fourth, identifying measures to counteract ageism by shifting the public discourse on aging.
In 2019, in the context of a general public meeting and expert roundtable in Winnipeg, we addressed the priority of action to reduce crimes targeting seniors and financial harm to seniors. In addition, we released the “What We Heard” report, which is available on our website. However, I would like to make a few points that remain relevant to COVID‑19.
The council found that financial crimes and harms against seniors are perpetrated by different actors and assume a variety of forms, from romance scams to aggressive door-to-door sales. Of importance is that social isolation can be a key risk factor, as scammers often prey upon the loneliness of older adults who are isolated and in need of basic human contact. Poverty and economic insecurity can also make older adults more susceptible to certain scams.
You can understand that with social isolation having increased as a result of the pandemic, new frauds are being perpetrated against older adults. These include unsolicited calls claiming to be from a private company or from health care providers offering home self-testing kits or even vaccination for an upfront fee; and private companies selling fraudulent products that claim to treat or prevent COVID-19.
When the pandemic began, the council quickly shifted its priorities to monitoring the pandemic situation of older adults. We immediately recognized that the pandemic was having, and was going to have, a disproportionate impact on older adults, and that studies were appearing to take stock of the situation from various perspectives, especially in relation to long-term care, but to a somewhat lesser extent, notions such as social isolation and older adults residing outside of long-term care facilities.
The council determined that to add value, it would provide high-level advice to ministers by reviewing research findings and the viewpoints of older adults and stakeholders, and by identifying values and principles to support the health and well-being of older adults. In response, and prior to the beginning of the second wave, the council prepared a report for ministers based on a review of over 40 reports regarding older adults and the pandemic. The report, entitled “Seniors Well-Being in Canada: Building on Lessons Learned from the Pandemic”, will soon be added to the council's website. If members of the committee would like to receive a copy, I'd certainly be happy to share it after this meeting.
The report suggests 22 actions, supported by conclusive data, as they relate to five main themes. Each action is further broken down into short, medium and long-term actions. Our advice to ministers has taken into account such fundamental elements as healthy aging and quality of life for seniors, the full continuum of care from home to nursing home, the negative impact of COVID‑19, and respect for federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
Since then, the council has continued working on the impacts of the pandemic on older adults, and has recently submitted advice to the ministers regarding the national long-term care standards, as these were included in the ministers' revised mandate letters and budget 2021. We continue to monitor the research that is being published related to the pandemic and older adults, and we will continue advising the ministers on this important issue. We are also in early discussions related to our next work plan.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you. I certainly look forward to our discussion.