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Sask. Seniors Mechanism hopes new minister can help address health and isolation

WATCH ABOVE: Like the rest of Canada, Saskatchewan has a aging population. The appointment of a Minister for Seniors has advocates happy to see issues facing older adults come into focus.

Saskatchewan, and the rest of Canada, have aging populations. In the 2016 census, Saskatchewan saw a population over 65 of more than 170,000. That represents 15.5 per cent of the population, and a nearly 11 per cent jump over 2011.

This is why the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism (SSM) is among the advocacy groups happy to see the appointment of Minister for Seniors Filomena Tassi.

SSM executive director Holly Schick said there are many concerns that require the attention of policy makers. In a vast province like Saskatchewan, social isolation is among the most pressing issues facing older adults.

“Especially in a province like ours where there are a lot of small rural communities. Transportation is becoming more and more of an issue of course,” Schick said.

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This was echoed by Canada’s largest national senior advocacy group, CARP.

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“Transportation costs are very high. We know that when people are outside of initial rural centres there are real challenges for social isolation,” CARP law policy national director Laura Tamblyn Watts said.

“So I think Saskatchewan would see coordination between the federal government level and the provincial government level be a significant step in the right direction.”

This social isolation can lead to mental health issues like depression, according to Schick. Health, and mental health are another issue in the focus of the SSM.

A major SSM goal is advocating for policies that help seniors live active, healthy independent lives. With a growing senior population, Schick would like to see a greater shift to focusing for preventative medicine.

“Those are the kind of people that really need support to live healthy, active lives, and that will help us reduce costs in terms of healthcare in the long run,” she said.

While the provincial government is in charge of running healthcare, approximately 20 per cent of the funding comes from federal transfers.

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Premier Scott Moe said the Saskatchewan government is looking forward to working with the new minister.

“We need an avid partner as we move forward as well with the federal government in our healthcare system, both financially, not just in advice on how to administer the system, but financially as well,” Moe said.

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The 2016 census showed the biggest jump in the number of Saskatchewan seniors in 30 years took place recently. Based on Statistics Canada data Schick said they expect that number to keep rising.

Schick said that Saskatchewan population 55-years-old and up is around 27 per cent. By 2038, that figure is expected to reach 34 per cent.

This is why the SSM hopes the introduction of a federal senior’s minister can lead to a national seniors strategy. The SSM also wants to see a provincial strategy developed, and they’re taking the initial steps. The first of several consultation sessions has already been held in Regina.

“Strategizing about what could be important as we move into the future for a province where we are indeed going to have a higher percentage of older adults,” Schick said.

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Future SSM consultations will be taking place in Prince Albert on Aug. 9, September on Sept. 11, Swift Current on Sept. 18, North Battleford on Sept. 18, Saskatoon on Sept 19 and Weyburn on Sept. 20.

After the consultations, the SSM will conduct a survey before drafting their recommendations. Those recommendations for a strategy are expected to be published in early spring.