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B.C. launches new 211 service to connect seniors, volunteers during coronavirus pandemic

WATCH: B.C. officials address supporting seniors during COVID-19 pandemic. FULL PRESS CONFERENCE.

British Columbia is launching a new service via the 211 phone line and website to help connect seniors with people who want to help them during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The province has provided additional funding so that the 211 phone number can now be called from anywhere in the province, and will be staffed 24 hours a day with a live operator.

Dedicated service launched to match B.C. seniors with community members
Dedicated service launched to match B.C. seniors with community members

211, based out of Vancouver, is a charitable organization that specializes in providing information and referral regarding community, government and social services in the province.

READ MORE: Their dads are quarantined with coronavirus in B.C. care homes. This is their message

Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said Thursday older citizens are both most at risk of getting COVID-19, and potentially devastating mental-health struggles due to isolation as a result of social-distancing measures.

“Wherever you live in B.C., if you want to help seniors with virtual visits, picking up and delivering some groceries, picking up and delivering medications, maybe dropping off a meal or two, call 211 or visit the website and we’ll try to match you up with a senior in your community who needs help,” Mackenzie said.

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Family members can phone to seek help for an elderly relative.

The service is also available to seniors living in care homes.

How B.C. 211 volunteers will be screened to help seniors
How B.C. 211 volunteers will be screened to help seniors

Mackenzie said the province is also boosting funding to the Better at Home program, which supports seniors with their non-medical needs.

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The additional case will support 68 community agencies, including 24 that have been declared COVID-19 response agencies, to coordinate efforts such as meal delivery, help with cooking, grocery and medicine delivery, and wellness checks and visits.

“These are challenging times for seniors living at home,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix. “We can’t let social distancing become isolation.”

Officials say they expect the service to be busy, and are asking people who can to use the website rather than the telephone line.

“We simply don’t have the luxury of time which is necessary for perfection,” said MacKenzie.

The largest outbreaks in B.C. are linked to two seniors’ homes: North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre and Vancouver’s Haro Park Centre.

Access to seniors’ care homes has been restricted to essential visits only.

READ MORE: B.C. seniors offered special shopping hours amid coronavirus concerns

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The province is also preparing an order that would bar health-care employees from working at more than one facility in a bid to slow the spread of transmission of the virus.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said seniors are not only more at risk of getting COVID-19, but that they are also more likely to feel lonely and isolated while under emergency social-distancing measures.