Impact Stories

Seniors During the Pandemic

United Way British Columbia has released a new study that explores and assesses how community agencies across B.C. worked to support older adults to stay safe at home during COVID-19.

Community Partnerships key to Supporting Seniors During the Pandemic

United Way British Columbia has released a new study that explores and assesses how community agencies across B.C. worked to support older adults to stay safe at home during COVID-19.

Commissioned by the United Way’s Healthy Aging Office in partnership with the Community Based Seniors Services Leadership Council, the study was undertaken by Dialogues in Action who gathered data to measure the effectiveness and responsiveness of the province-wide, community-led response to support seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report entitled Rising to the Challenge: How BC’s Community-Based Seniors’ Service Agencies Stepped Up During COVID-19, highlights how a network of community agencies across the province pulled together to keep older adults safe at home.

“It was understood very early on that seniors are particularly vulnerable to the virus and would need to take public health guidelines very seriously”, said Kahir Lalji, Provincial Director, United Way Healthy Aging. “This includes older adults living at home, who need to take extra precautions to stay home and stay safe during the pandemic. Helping seniors with non-medical, day-to-day tasks is something we, as a sector, know how to do.”

The provincial government turned to the United Way to coordinate the efforts of over 140 community agencies throughout B.C. to help older adults stay safe at home. Agency staff and volunteers stayed in contact with seniors through phone conversations and virtual visits and helped out with household tasks like meal delivery, grocery shopping and prescription pick-ups – simple but important things that enabled seniors to stay safe in their own homes during this dangerous and disruptive time.

Collaboration, cooperation, and love of community helped the CBSS sector to “Rise to the Challenge”

“There are thousands of local, not-for-profit organizations in B.C. doing important work every day to support seniors and others in need”, said Michael McKnight, President & CEO, United Way British Columbia. “We were able to help those agencies come together in a powerful way during the pandemic, thanks to funding from the Government of B.C., and the leadership of the Office of the Seniors Advocate.”

Rising to the Challenge provides insight into the vital role played by community, specifically the community-based seniors serving sector – the CBSS sector – which is a collection of non-profit societies and other community agencies like neighbourhood houses, volunteer associations, senior’s centres, faith communities, and formal and informal community coalitions. The findings demonstrate how well the needs of the public can be served by the CBSS sector when it is recognized and properly resourced by all levels of government and other funding bodies.

Marcy Cohen, Co-Chair of the United Way’s CBSS Leadership Council, said “These agencies are embedded in their communities, and because they know their communities so well – and care about them so deeply – they threw all their heart and energy into this effort.” Cohen went on to say, “While many of these groups work together informally in their neighbourhoods, it was a government-funded, community-coordinated response to the pandemic that brought everyone together in such an organized and effective way.”

The research study included individual and group interviews with over 100 staff, volunteers, and partner organizations, eight focus groups and a survey. It features case studies about successful partnerships and stories from seniors themselves, some of whom talk about the heartbreak they encountered. Despite the difficulties, the report clearly illustrates that community agencies that provide non-medical services to seniors are such an important part of the continuum of care.

Lalji added, “The experiences of living through a pandemic has shown us that, with the right supports, community agencies can rise to the challenge. We can strengthen vital connections with each other, with government policy makers and funders, and through other partnerships in the public and private sector. Finding new patterns of collaboration, seeking out partnerships across jurisdictions, developing relationships that reflect the diversity and dynamic nature of our communities – this is the future.”

Rising to the Challenge identifies challenges and opportunities, as well as a way forward

  1. A system-wide strategy is needed to identify and connect with the most vulnerable seniors, who are facing multiple barriers.
  2. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the digital divide. Many agencies quickly mobilized and got devices in the hands of users and created training, but there will continue to be a demand for digital learning for those seniors who were uncomfortable with technology.
  3. Volunteers are essential to the work of the CBSS sector. Many volunteers are themselves, seniors, so we saw an uptake in the number of middle-aged and younger adults who stepped in during the early days of the pandemic. Going forward, agencies will need to find and retain a more diversified cohort of volunteers and staff to undertake the work of training and supporting them.
  4. Partnerships and collaborations played a critical role in the sector’s successful response to the pandemic. But partnerships don’t just appear out of nowhere, they must be built and nurtured. Time and resources are needed to develop new and innovative partnerships.

To view Rising to the Challenge Full Report, please click here. The Executive Summary is available here.