Group feels calls for independent seniors advocate ignored in meeting with Manitoba seniors minister

After a single meeting with Manitoba’s seniors and long-term care minister, a seniors’ advocacy group says they feel ignored and don’t have much hope they’ll be listened to again by the government ahead of the next provincial election.

The Winnipeg branch of Canadian Association of Retired Persons penned a letter to Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Scott Johnston on Monday, criticizing him over a meeting he had with members last month.

“The reason that we sent it now is because we were very disillusioned,” said CARP Winnipeg vice-president Carmen Nedohin, who attended the meeting.

“We just felt he really didn’t want to hear from us, there was no interest in it whatsoever, he kept repeating the same things over and over and over again.”

Nedohin said the purpose of this first meeting was for CARP leadership to meet with Johnston to discuss different issues facing seniors.

Creation of seniors advocate

The group also hoped to focus on the possibility of creating an independent seniors advocate position. 

An advocate with the national seniors group CanAge as well as the provincial NDP and Liberals have called for such a position to be created. 

Nedohin said CARP prepared a proposal for what such a position would entail — something akin to the Manitoba Children’s Advocate with the authority to raise or intervene in certain serious cases.

Examples of such situations include allegations of abuse similar to those that emerged last week from Oakview Place in Winnipeg or the dozens of seniors who died of COVID-19 at Maples Long-Term Care Centre during the pandemic, said Nedohin.

“After what happened at the Maples and other places, they would have had a chance to call witnesses, call an inquiry, do whatever needed to be done, regardless of of what political party, what political stripe is in power,” she said. 

She said CARP tried to explain in the meeting that they’ve heard feedback from a number of seniors’ organizations in Manitoba that are supportive of the creation of an independent seniors advocate, but were too timid to raise the issue with the province for fear of losing funding.

Johnston showed no interest in such a position, said Nedohin, and instead discussed a ministerial advisory committee made up of people who have or previously worked in the long-term care sector or with seniors in some other capacity. 

Committee members include the CAO of Deer Lodge Centre, CEO of Actionmarguerite, executive director of Brandon Seniors for Seniors Co-op, several physicians including a retired palliative care specialist, a medical director for a seniors centre at Deer Lodge, a former health-care attendant and more.

Johnston said that committee would be involved in surveying Manitobans’ views on what the newer ministry should be focused on — including issues in the long-term care sector — according to Nedohin.

Nedohin agreed that issue needs to be top of mind for the ministry, but CARP fears the makeup of the committee will skew too heavily in focus toward current or former representatives from the long-term care sector, and exclude groups such as CARP and seniors with lived experience.

More than just long-term care: CARP

They question whether the ministry is singularly focused on the long-term care sector at a time when seniors also face housing, health care and community needs like connecting with other people.

A government spokesperson told CBC the creation of the seniors and long-term care ministry stemmed from a provincial seniors engagement plan meant to guide the province through developing a new strategy for seniors’ issues.

About 50 individuals and representatives from organizations that work with seniors will consult Johnston’s office as it determines what to focus on, the spokesperson said.

“Our government is reaching out across the province to all Manitobans to listen, learn and work collaboratively to develop a plan to support seniors to live as independently as they wish, in their own homes and for as long as it is safe,” reads a statement from the spokesperson.

“Manitobans will be consulted extensively to help design, enhance and implement a renewed seniors’ strategy. Minister Johnston and the department of seniors and long-term care will consider all suggestions arising from the public consultations.”

Nedohin said she still fears the outcome of such a public consultations and consultants could be “another report that’s going to sit on a the shelf.”

“Nothing is going to be done, in our opinion,” she said.

Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP’s health critic, said the provincial government is continuing to let down seniors by refusing to be proactive about protecting those living in personal care homes.

“This government knows that Manitobans want a seniors advocate but they refuse to establish one,” Asagwara said in a statement.