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B.C. watchdog reports disturbing hike in abuse and neglect of seniors

Click to play video: 'B.C. seniors advocate says neglect and abuse of seniors is up over five years' B.C. seniors advocate says neglect and abuse of seniors is up over five years
BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says abuse and neglect of seniors is up dramatically over the past five years, and she says there needs to be a better system for people to report their concerns. Neetu Garcha reports. – Dec 8, 2021

A new report from B.C.’s seniors’ advocate is calling for a better reporting system amid what it says is a significant hike in abuse and neglect involving the province’s elders.

The report, released by Isobel Mackenzie on Wednesday, is drawn from data collected over the last three to five years and warns that the issues both predate and have been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Seniors’ advocate finds elderly in private care facilities more likely to die in hospital: report

Seniors made up just over 18 per cent of B.C.’s population as of the 2016 census.

The report found a 49 per cent increase in reports of abuse, neglect or self-neglect to officially designated agencies.

Click to play video: 'Seniors advocate says abuse of B.C. older adults has increased dramatically' Seniors advocate says abuse of B.C. older adults has increased dramatically
Seniors advocate says abuse of B.C. older adults has increased dramatically – Dec 8, 2021

It tracked a 69 per cent hike in reports of victims of violent crime to the RCMP and a shocking 87 per cent increase in reports of physical abuse and 49 per cent increase of financial abuse reported to Vancouver police.

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Reports of abuse to the 211 seniors line were up 30 per cent, and reports to the Seniors Abuse and Information Line were up five per cent.

What’s more, the report suggests a “significant” under-reporting of incidents, due to what it describes as a “fragmented and incomplete” reporting and tracking system and the absence of a “cohesive provincial approach to support the public in their desire to identify and report seniors’ abuse and neglect.”

It pointed to a lack of standardization in definitions along with the absence of reliable data with which to assess patterns and gaps in the system and against which to measure progress.

Click to play video: 'B.C. Seniors advocate releases report into COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes.' B.C. Seniors advocate releases report into COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes.
B.C. Seniors advocate releases report into COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes – Oct 6, 2021

“There was also clear evidence, however, that our current system can be effective and many of the basic tenants are sound,” the report states.

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“The challenge is that the system is not reliably effective and many vulnerable seniors may be falling through the cracks.”

A key challenge, according to the report, is the 20-year-old Adult Guardianship Act, which other than the Criminal Code of Canada remains B.C.’s main piece of legislation protecting seniors.

There have been virtually no guidelines, standards or policies implemented since the act, leaving seniors’ protection to a “patchwork of implementation” across health authorities, it states.

The report suggests what it acknowledges would be a time-consuming review of the act, potentially including the legal requirement for people to report incidents of seniors abuse, as is currently required with children.

Read more: Lack of staff sick pay, rapid testing contributed to COVID-19 deaths in B.C. long-term care: report

In the short-term, the report makes five recommendations, including the creation of a central, single point of contact with one phone number staffed by professionals to gather reports of concern.

“This single point of contact will include a central information system and coordinate with organizations to record, document and track cases of concern, including monitoring cases for response and outcomes, and produce an annual public report,” it said.

Mackenzie also recommends creating provincial standards of practice, policies and front-line training to ensure a consistent response to abuse and neglect, as well as a public awareness campaign focusing on seniors abuse.

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The report also calls for ensuring consistent data collection and definitions to track and monitor abuse and neglect cases, in addition to a review of the Adult Guardianship Act.

The B.C. Ministry of Health responded to the report by touting previously implemented programs to help seniors, but acknowledging “more needs to be done” to make it easier to report abuse.

“The Ministry is currently working with its Federal, Provincial and Territorial partners on a newly established elder abuse working group to ensure that B.C. is implementing the most current and effective approaches to addressing elder abuse,” it said.

“This government will also continue to work in the coming weeks and months with its provincial partners, like the Provincial Guardian and Trustee, health authorities and service providers to find solutions – using this report and its recommendations as one of our sources.”

 

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