The tragic death of a terminally-ill Winnipeg woman who died days before promised palliative home care workers arrived to help has renewed calls for an independent seniors’ advocate in Manitoba.
Eric de Schepper says home care showed up days after his wife Katherine Ellis died of cancer Feb. 18 and weeks after the couple were told the care was coming.
De Schepper is now speaking to MLAs about the situation after he says he’s heard from others with similar experiences, but advocates like Carmen Nedohin say that’s not something he should have to be doing, especially so soon after losing his wife.
“For the this gentleman and his wife, to have had to go through this is just unconscionable,” said Nedohin, who heads up Winnipeg’s chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP).
“An independent legislated seniors advocate would immediately look into that.”
Nedohin says CARP has been calling for a seniors’ advocate to be established in Manitoba for years, but so far, she says they have not gotten a positive response from the provincial Progress Conservative government.
She says an independent advocate’s office, like have been set up in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, would help with important issues facing seniors like health care, housing, income supports, and transportation.
“They would have the ability to call witnesses, et cetera, and their findings would be made public,” she said.
“It would not sit on a minister’s shelf collecting dust.”
‘We have one’
When asked about the idea of an independent seniors’ advocate in Manitoba on Wednesday, Premier Heather Stefanson did not appear to be receptive.
“We have one, it’s called the minister of seniors. I was very adamant about that we needed to start focusing on issues related to seniors,” she told Global News.
“The minister has come out with our seniors’ strategy just last week. There are significant dollars going toward home care and other issues for seniors.”
The minister responsible for seniors and long-term care, Scott Johnston, wasn’t made available for an interview about de Schepper’s situation earlier this week.
Instead, a spokesperson offered condolences in a statement and also pointed to the province’s new senior’s strategy.
That strategy earmarked an additional $14 million to expand the Self and Family-Managed Care program and $1.3 million more for palliative care services.
Nedohin says she disagrees completely that having a seniors minister means the province doesn’t need an advocate.
“They are basically investigating themselves,” she said of complaints that would cross a minister’s desk rather than come through an advocate.
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“And they’re not just meant to be a watchdog to quote unquote catch the government doing things that are wrong.
“They’re also an entity that would look at best practices across the globe and say, you know, this is something that I think would work in Manitoba and have some discussions with government.”
Opposition parties supportive
Both the Manitoba Liberal Party and the provincial NDP say they are in favour of seeing a seniors’ advocate office — much like the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth — created in the province.
Liberal leader Dougald Lamont called it an “urgent” need.
“Very often, if you’re a senior or a family member, you need an advocate in the system,” he said. “If you have a complaint there may be no one to go to.”
Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew pointed to allegations of poor care at long-term care homes as an example of why a seniors advocate is needed.
“We’re talking about the generation in Manitoba who gave us the opportunity to enjoy the lives we live today,” he said.
“The very least we owe this generation is dignity and respect and having an independent seniors’ advocate who can stand up and call out when things are going wrong and demand better and demand dignity for seniors is something that we all should support in Manitoba.”
Nedohin said both opposition parties have told CARP they plan to make adding a seniors’ advocate a part of their platform in the upcoming provincial election.
And with that election just a few months away, she says the governing PCs should consider doing the same.
“I think that for Premier Stefanson it would be wise to pay attention to the voices of seniors in this province,” she said.
“Because it’s far past time and we’re just really fed up.”