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B.C. seniors’ group calls for equal access to COVID-19 vaccine for those in independent living

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The BC Seniors Living Association (BCSLA) is calling on the province to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed in an equitable way, not only to seniors in assisted living and long-term care facilities but also to those in independent living.

BCSLA CEO Lee Coonfer told Global News that earlier in the pandemic, independent living facilities were seemingly forgotten for government funding as the virus rampaged through long-term care centres.

“When we look at independent living or seniors communities where residents don’t necessarily need the care requirements that assisted living needs, they were left out of that altogether and were provided no funding or support,” he said.

Read more: Fraser Health steps in to oversee 2 care homes with serious COVID-19 outbreaks

That’s in spite of continued efforts by the BCSLA to engage with the government and advocate for community operators, the organization said.

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“However, it hasn’t always meant that seniors living operators are all treated the same,” the BCSLA said in a press release.

“Compensation for personal protective equipment (PPE), pandemic pay and support to accommodate visitation restrictions have not always been made available to private operators of assisted living and long-term care communities. In most cases, independent living (IL) sites are overlooked altogether.”

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Coonfer said he’s not sure if that’s because seniors in independent living are considered not as physically vulnerable as those in long-term care or assisted living, or because the government was simply trying to get funding out as quickly as possible.

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But he said the independent living sector has also been hit hard by the pandemic, both in terms of outbreak and the physical and mental health of staff and residents.

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And when it comes to the vaccine, the BCSLA said seniors in those facilities need to be near the front of that list, somewhere right after the most vulnerable seniors.

Read more: Get rapid tests into care homes now, says B.C. seniors’ advocate

“We cannot treat seniors that live in similar congregative settings differently simply because one site is government-funded and the other site is a private operator. Nor can we treat a senior that resides in an assisted living community differently than the senior living in an independent living community,” Coonfer said.

“The fears and concerns of the seniors living in either of these communities are the same and they all deserve the same treatment and attention when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Coonfer said he hopes the vaccine rollout also quickly accommodates those seniors who may be living in their own homes, or in multi-generational households as well.

Coonfer said he had a call with B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, on Friday to speak about the issue.

He said she assured him there is a plan to address inoculating the rest of B.C.’s seniors as equitably and quickly as possible and said he left the meeting feeling much more confident.

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In the meantime, he said his organization is ready to lend a hand wherever its needed — whether that’s by identifying staff and residents at independent living facilities or by driving seniors to vaccination sites.

“We’ll mobilize our community shuttle buses. We’ll do whatever it takes to get it done and get it done quickly,” Coonfer said.

“So they’re all vaccinated in a timely fashion, so we can start moving forward with this and getting out the other side healthier and happier.”

Read more: Front-line health workers will be first to get COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.

Vaccinations are set to arrive in B.C. this week, with an initial shipment of about 4,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Those will be distributed to two sites in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions and will be administered to health-care workers in the long term care sector, and those working in COVID-19 wards, intensive care units and emergency departments.

“Our intense focus will be immunizing those around long-term care and immunizing those in long-term care,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told a news conference last week.

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When further shipments arrive, the province has said residents of long term care will be next in line to receive vaccinations, along with seniors over 80. Other groups will follow based on their vulnerability, and will include people in high-risk living conditions, people who are unhoused, and people in isolated and remote Indigenous communities.

B.C. plans to have 400,000 thousand people vaccinated by the end of March 2021.