Impact Stories

United Way BC Celebrates Social Prescribing Day: Empowering Seniors to Achieve Health and Happiness

Social Prescribing Program Connects Older Adults to Vital Community Resources for Improved Well-being

United Way BC is marking Social Prescribing Day on March 14th by shining a light on the Social Prescribing program, which plays a crucial role in linking seniors to community programs and resources to address their unmet needs

Many things that affect our health can’t be treated by doctors or medicine alone. Like loneliness, debt, or stress due to financial pressures or poor housing.  

For Ellen of North Vancouver, it is pain caused by severe arthritis that kept her housebound, until she got connected to United Way BC’s Social Prescribing Program.  

“Before I came to the program, I was pretty well isolating, I was seeing how I would feel at the beginning of the day and decide if I should go out and get groceries and then stay home,” she says.  

Ellen was referred by a registered nurse to United Way BC’s Social Prescribing program, which is facilitated by our community partner, Parkgate Society.  

The agency’s Community Connector, Angela Sealy, met with Ellen and through conversation and discussion of goals, they co-created a wellness plan. Ellen confirmed she would benefit from more social interaction and exercise classes.  

As a result, Ellen registered for the Active Living with Chronic Pain program. “It helps a great deal to be with other people who are experiencing the same sort of thing,” Ellen says.  

Watch Ellen’s story in our feature video highlighting United Way BC’s Social Prescribing Program

A social prescription typically involves non-medical interventions aimed at improving an individual’s overall well-being and addressing social determinants of health.  

These prescriptions are often recommended by healthcare professionals and can encompass a wide range of activities and support services tailored to the individual’s needs. 

A social prescription could include:  

  • Exercise and physical activity programs 
  • Sports clubs or fitness classes 
  • Walking groups or nature-based activities 
  • Arts and creative therapies (e.g., art therapy, music therapy) 
  • Social clubs or community groups 
  • Volunteering opportunities 
  • Educational classes or workshops (e.g., cooking classes, language courses) 
  • Gardening or horticulture projects 
  • Mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation sessions
  • Peer support groups 
  • Access to financial advice or support services 
  • Housing support or assistance with housing issues 

Social prescriptions can be highly personalized based on a senior’s circumstances, preferences, and the available resources in their community. The key is to address holistic well-being by considering social, economic, and environmental factors alongside physical and mental health concerns. 

The Active Living with Chronic Pain program in action at Parkgate Society Community Services in North Vancouver, BC. United Way BC Social Prescribing participants are referred to the program.

Ellen commended United Way BC for managing the vital program, which is funded by the Province of BC.

“United Way BC is highly respected throughout British Columbia, and they do so much for so many people, through these kinds of social programs.” 

Leading the Social Prescribing Movement 

United Way BC is spearheading the expansion of the Social Prescribing program across British Columbia, in alignment with the vision shared by BC’s Ministry of Health.  

Dr. Beverley Pitman, United Way BC’s Senior Regional Community Developer for the Vancouver Coastal Health region, emphasizes the urgent need for such initiatives amidst the challenges faced by an aging population and strains on the healthcare system. 

“We are convinced that seniors in BC and the BC healthcare system both need it at this time. We have a healthcare system in crisis and seniors are falling through the cracks,” Dr. Pitman asserts, underscoring the significance of United Way BC’s role in expanding Social Prescribing to over 100 communities by 2026. 

Dr. Beverley Pitman is United Way BC’s Senior Regional Community Developer for the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

“The research and data are increasingly clear that Social Prescribing is fulfilling an unmet need for seniors,” Pitman says.  

“The positive effects on the lives of seniors begin with social connections and connections to agencies, programs, other individuals, and groups of seniors who may become important in your life. A walking group could become like a second family to you.”  

Empowering Community Connectors 

At the core of Social Prescribing is the role of Community Connectors, who play an instrumental role in bridging seniors with essential resources and support.  

Angela Sealy, serving as the Social Prescribing Community Connector at Parkgate Society, emphasizes the multifaceted nature of seniors’ needs beyond medical concerns. 

“We are attempting to solve the issue of loneliness and isolation.” 

Angela Sealy is the Social Prescribing Community Connector at Parkgate Society in North Vancouver, BC.

She says most seniors she’s worked with have complex chronic conditions or are low-income.  

She’s witnessed Social Prescribing enhance the lives of many. “It’s a program that is desperately needed,” she says. “United Way BC’s support of this program is crucial; without it, we could not do this important work.” 

Over the next two years, the number of Community Connector positions in BC will increase from 19 to approximately 90 Connectors across the province.

The Community Connector positions will be integral to supporting seniors who are vulnerable to develop health and wellness plans and then connect those seniors to the community programming and health services that meet their needs. Seniors who are less able to access services on their own will be prioritized.

Revamping Healthy Aging Programming  

United Way BC’s evolving Healthy Aging service delivery model envisions a network of community collaboratives aimed at strengthening partnerships and enhancing support for seniors.  

By addressing socioeconomic factors, physical environments, and health behaviors, this model emphasizes holistic care for seniors. 

Central to the redesign is the expansion of a pivotal role: the Community Connector (CC). The aim is to achieve provincial coverage by the end of 2025-26. 

Community Collaboratives will include a Better at Home program and other neighboring senior-serving agencies that agree to co-ordinate their community’s program delivery based on each agencies’ strengths, capacities and experiences.

Collaboratives will be organized in alignment with BC’s local health areas.

Happy Social Prescribing Day!