Friday January 26, 2024 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
A new BC Seniors Advocate was announced today by BC Health Minister Adrian Dix. Dan Levitt will take on the government-appointed role effective April 4.
The Office of the Seniors Advocate is part of the BC government continuing to support oversight and advocacy towards seniors care including programs and services. Those who care for seniors are also part of the scope.
“We’ve done a great deal to support seniors in the last number of years and we’re going to do more,” said Dix today.
Isobel Mackenzie for 10 years:
Retiring after 10 years in the job is outgoing BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie. In many ways, her name and that of the Office of Seniors Advocate have become synonymous
Mackenzie joined Minister Dix in the BC Legislative Press Gallery news theatre for today’s announcement. Dix thanked her for her “frank, positive and constructive advice”.
Along with Deputy Minister of Health Dr Stephen Brown, Mackenzie was on the hiring panel to choose the next advocate, as one more way to influence the direction of the province’s care for seniors that she’s been doing since 2014.
“The seniors of British Columbia are in good hands because of the commitment of British Columbians to care for all people in society,” said Mackenzie, making particular reference to how seniors were protected and supported in the earliest days of the COVID pandemic.
What Levitt bring to the role:
Once on the job April 4 as the new seniors advocate, Levitt says he will tour the province to learn more about current services and facilities for seniors and hear about people’s experiences, both urban and rural.
“As seniors advocate I want to be part of those stories,” said Levitt about the progress that will be made for seniors in this province.
“I have committed my life to making sure seniors have the supports and resource they need to live their best lives,” said Levitt today, himself soon to be 55.
Overall, he described his role as coming to know the systemic challenges that seniors experience. He sees his new role as a “platform to raise awareness for the issues seniors face” and that he will be “a voice to champion for seniors rights and a force for change”.
“As BC’s demographics shift and our seniors population expands it’s crucial that elders their families and their caregivers feel empowered to access the services and programs that support health aging. And that those services and programs are there when and where they need them,” said Levitt today.
He wants to speak with “older people, their caregivers and family members about their biggest concerns” which he defined through a government lens of transportation, housing, and care.
“I want to hear from them, then look at those issues that matter most to them and British Columbians,” said Levitt, after which will follow some research to identify systemic issues that will be the focus of “a series of reports in the next several years”.
Rethinking aging is a direction Levitt will take.
“Aging should not be approached as a negative thing or with a fear of growing old. Rather, society should embrace thinking about longevity as a good thing. Active and healthy aging, positive going forward.
The OSA is seen as becoming increasing important to ensure more accessible, transparent and accountable approaches to seniors care in BC. Levitt wants to “ensure that BC leads the way for a better future in the field of aging”.
There’s a narrative in society that aging is a negative thing. Also about our own ageism or even gerontophobia, and a fear of older people and a fear of growing old.
“Turn it upside down, rethink it, and embrace it, and think of longevity as a good thin,” said Levitt. “That’s a much more healthy approach to active aging and healthy aging, but to have a positive viewpoint going forward about growing old.”
Dix pointed out that life expectancy at 65 has doubled since he became Minister of Health (in 2017). He noted that “diverse concerns and needs of someone who is relatively health at 65 has very different requirements than someone in their 80s”. So notes that seniors “contribute a great deal” to society.
What is a senior? Island Social Trends asked the incoming Seniors Advocate to define that. He mentioned that was discussed 10 years ago when the Office of the Seniors Advocate was first formed. He framed it as “what do we look at in this office”, do we start with 55, 65 and 85. “We looked at it as 65,” he said.
“Some of us get benefits at 55 or 65, but as an employee you lose some benefits when you turn 65. We should be questioning that,” said Levitt.
He noted that people over 85 is the fastest growing segment of the BC population, but that there’s a “huge range of seniors”.
“When you’ve met one person of a certain age, that’s just one person. It’s a group of people that we might want to characterize with certain characteristics but they’re really quite diverse and heterogeneous,” said the incoming BC Seniors Advocate.
All the ‘pieces’ of an aging population are important, said Levitt. He said there’s a role for independent living including that it helps ease the spaces in long-term care. “We need supports in people’s homes, and we’re going to see more and more options come available,” said Levitt.
He also wants to look at the ‘silver economy’. That’s a system of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services aimed at using the purchasing potential of older and aging people and satisfying their consumption, living and health needs. “That will come forward in the future,” he said.
“Long-term care is such an important thing. We’ll always need long-term care and assisted living, and we’re going to need more housing going forward and the government has done a lot already in that area,” said Levitt.
Seniors Advocate Background:
Minister Dix described Dan Levitt as having a 30-year track record who is passionate about communicating with the public, about his knowledge, work experience and vision in elder care and has demonstrated “exceptional innovative leadership in elder care at the local, national and international level”.
Levitt is currently the chief executive officer of KinVillage (with a slogan of Live, Care, Connect), a large not-for-profit care home based in Delta, and an adjunct professor of gerentology at Simon Fraser Unversity, an adjunct professor in the school of nursing at UBC, and a sessional instructor at BCIT. He has written extensively about the challenges and opportunities that face an aging society, in academic and trade journals, and regularly contributes to media coverage.
Dix likes that Levitt “understands accreditation”. Getting more internationally trained professionals accredited into the BC health care system has been a focus of Dix’s efforts to strength the provincial health care system.
Dix outlined that Levitt has spoken about “complex and contentious ideas with various audiences” including senior government officials. He has been accustomed to bringing together diverse groups to work toward a common goal employing strong interpersonal, collaborative and communications skills.
Dan will assume the responsibility to monitor and analyze seniors services in making recommendations in five areas: health care, housing, income support, community support, and transportation.
BC is the first jurisdiction to have created the Office of the Seniors Advocate which plays a crucial role in oversight and advocacy and in addressing the broad systemic issues that affect seniors. This is particularly important as the BC population grow rapidly and also ages.
- BC Seniors Advocate: a billion more reasons to care (September 25, 2023)
- Adjusting the financial realities for seniors takes insight and commitment – editorial (August 15, 2023)
- Expanded supports for seniors living independently (May 9, 2023)
- Majority of seniors in long-term care have dementia, says Dix (March 22, 2023)
- West shore long-term care boost aims for 2027 completion (March 19, 2023)
- Seniors home care needs more workers & shift to no-fee (February 23, 2023)
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been covering news of the south Vancouver Island region and BC politics since 2014 (and before that with a focus on Sooke where her publication series began).
Ms Brooke has a B.Sc. in Foods and Nutrition with a strong community education component. In the past few years she has been following issues about the well-being of seniors in community and society.
Mary P Brooke reported daily on COVID during 2020-2022 and now reports with the BC Legislative Press Gallery. In 2023 she was nominated for a Jack Webster Foundation journalism award for contributing to her community through journalism.
Island Social Trends publishes daily at IslandSocialTrends.ca (2020 to present) and biweekly in print (starting January 2024).
Mary P Brooke lives in Langford where she has covered school board and municipal politics for the last 10 years, and in 2024 has launched the Urban Food Resilience Initiatives Society.