Ageism and advocacy
Wanda Morris of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons speaks at the Jewish Seniors Alliance Spring Forum May 13. (photo from JSA)
The annual Jewish Seniors Alliance Spring Forum was held on May 13 at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture. Even though it was Mother’s Day, attendance was strong, with 70 to 80 enthusiastic attendees enjoying a lively afternoon presentation and discussion.
Ken Levitt, president of JSA, introduced the program, reminding everyone of JSA’s motto, “Seniors Stronger Together.” He explained that, among other things, JSA is involved in advocating for a national pharmacare initiative, as well as helping older adults become more self-reliant, thus enabling them to stay in their homes longer. He spoke about the Chai Tea, which was held on June 10, and honoured Serge Haber, who has been instrumental in the JSA, on the occasion of Haber’s 90th birthday. Levitt then introduced Wanda Morris, the forum’s guest speaker.
Morris is vice-president of advocacy for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). Prior to that, she was chief executive officer of Dying with Dignity Canada, where she led a strategic campaign for legislative change, leading to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the groundbreaking case Carter v. Canada for the right to die with dignity. In the process, Morris established her reputation as a key influencer and go-to commentator in national discussions on issues of importance to all Canadians, particularly on issues pertaining to aging. She brings to CARP years of successful advocacy and policy development, plus a track record of fundraising results and business expertise gained from three decades as a chartered professional accountant. Morris is a regular contributor to the Vancouver Sun.
Morris began by talking about some problems experienced by many elder adults, such as having to spend more than 30% of their income on housing, especially when that income is fixed; the high cost of prescription drugs; the long wait times for medical procedures; the long wait times in emergency rooms; and the difficulty of finding a family physician. In this context, she introduced the audience to the term “GOMER” – “get out of my emergency room.”
There are numerous challenges facing older adults and there are many more of them all the time, she said. For example, there are more Canadians over 65 years old than under 15, 1,000 Canadians turn 65 daily, and centenarians are the fastest growing demographic.
Morris pointed out that ageism is one element that is making life more difficult: it is harder to find work as we age and doctors prefer not to take on older patients, as they tend to have more health issues. There are also many safety issues that involve getting around in the community; for example, the short time green lights allow for crossing the street, the lack of benches for resting and the few public washrooms. In addition, there are often long lines in such places as airport security or in supermarkets. Ageism starts with disrespect and can lead to neglect and abuse, said Morris.
So, what are the solutions? Engagement is the most important factor, she said. Anger is not helpful but active advocacy in the areas of media, politics and bureaucracies can have an effect. The approach must be respectful and concise, she said. Point out when people make ageist jokes but do it in a non-threatening manner, she suggested. And stories of individual experiences can be more effective than long tirades – Morris gave the example of a Sears employee who had worked there for many years and was left with little or no pension.
CARP has more members across Canada than all the political parties combined, and can thus have a strong effect on the political process in their advocacy for seniors. They can work together with other seniors groups for change in such areas as pharmaceutical policy. CARP’s largest groups are in Ontario, said Morris, but the organization is hoping to revitalize the B.C. chapters.
Morris’s presentation was followed by a spirited question-and-answer period. Most of the questions focused on health care and its costs. Morris said it was reorganization rather than more money that could be the solution. As an example of this, she noted the number of seniors taking up acute care beds at a very high cost because of the lack of home care and/or live-in facilities like long-term care. Other topics touched upon were the addressing of incontinence by having more staff for regular toileting; advance directives about death and dying; using the term “rewire” rather than “retire”; and shuttle buses to bring seniors to cultural events, thereby reducing social isolation.
After the discussion, Ezra Shanken, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, gave greetings to all and JSA’s Gyda Chud thanked Morris for elevating our voices with new and powerful information focused on current and future solutions. Chud pointed out that stories, as Morris had said, are important not just for children, but also for adult learning. Everyone then enjoyed snacks and desserts by Gala and shmoozed.
JSA is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of all seniors, by providing peer support services, advocacy for seniors’ issues, education and outreach. For more information, visit jsalliance.org.
Shanie Levin, MSW, worked for many years in the field of child welfare. During that time, she was active in the union. As well, she participated in amateur dramatics. She has served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and is presently on the executive of Jewish Seniors Alliance and a member of the editorial committee.