The Future of Aging in Wood Buffalo

Myra Ross,
Monday, January 12 2015

“Old age ain't no place for sissies.”
Bette Davis

He’s a man of many passions and community networks.

Involved for years locally with Little League baseball, Dave Hodson was in the crowd at MacDonald Island on Friday, Jan. 9, when Mayor Melissa Blake announced that Fort McMurray will be one of the host communities for the 2016 Baseball Canada Cup Championships. And he’s scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 13, as Chair of the Advisory Committee on Aging (ACOA), to make a presentation to Council about the future of aging in Wood Buffalo.

Dave Hodson

Dave Hodson

Hodson won’t officially become a senior for a few years, but he’s somewhat concerned that, as he and his wife add more candles to their birthday cakes, we are missing some of the critical resources for aging in Wood Buffalo.

“We all know of or hear of situations that shouldn’t be happening and I think we can do better than that,” Hodson says.

Hodson, 63, and his family have lived in Fort McMurray for 23 years. He and his wife have six grandchildren whom they love spending their time with and they center their lives around many local activities and friends. They’ve devoted time and energy to building family, friendships and community in Fort McMurray. They do not wish to leave as they continue to age.

As active today as he was before he retired in 2010 as the Manager of Long Range Planning and Geology at Suncor, Hodson says not everyone arrives in the region with a five or a ten-year plan.

“This is my home and I have no plans to leave,” he explains. “But when I was involved with others who were lobbying for an Aging in Place facility in Fort McMurray, I realized there was no single voice for seniors and no single owner or spokesperson of a vision of aging with dignity.

“With the 2014 announcement of the Parsons Creek Continuing Care Centre, the Province addressed the clinical care portion of aging and took some much needed pressure off the hospital but it didn’t address the non-clinical portion of aging.

“I still want community – to be around friends and contribute. Parsons Creek, as a continuing care facility, doesn’t address that. That’s why I asked Council to consider the creation of an Aging with Dignity initiative in Wood Buffalo.”

Regional Council endorsed Hodson’s recommendation with the formation of the seven-member Advisory Committee on Aging (ACOA) that will address aging from a regional perspective:

  • Dave Hodson: Chair, ACOA, the urban representative and committee chair for a one-year term

  • Coun. Lance Bussieres, the Regional Council representative

  • Paul McWilliams, Community Manager of Servus Credit Union and representative for the Wood Buffalo Health Advisory Council

  • Karen McMillan, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health, Alberta Northeast Region office and a member of the Seniors Resource Committee

  • Joan Furber, President, Golden Years Society

  • Bryan Lutes, President, Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corporation, a non-profit corporation created by the municipality

  • Linda Mywaart, the Rural Communities representative, also a trustee with the Fort McMurray Public School District

The committee’s responsibilities include providing a forum for stakeholder input on strategies and service delivery issues affecting seniors, deal with matters referred to it by Council and to make recommendations to Council.

“There are a lot of needs and interests that have to be considered and balanced,” Hodson says about the years of lobbying by local—and vocal—seniors.

“My whole reason for recommending this committee is to help get everyone on the same page. We have groups that don’t talk with one another. We need open, honest dialogue if we’re going to create a vision for Aging with Dignity in Wood Buffalo.

“I think, with the formation of this committee, it allows us to step back. One of the opportunities we now have is to create this vision. That’s what this committee is all about. Our mandate is to identify as best we can the vision of Aging with Dignity for our region and then return to council with some recommendations in 2015.”

Many other communities have taken similar initiatives and the ACOA has many resources at hand that will help in defining the vision for Wood Buffalo.

For example, he explains, in 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) brought together 33 communities, including four from Canada, from 22 countries world-wide to define what an age-friendly community looks like.

“The WHO initiative created the designation of “Age-Friendly Community,” Hodson continues. “If we want to undertake that journey, it clearly outlines the standards. The Parson’s Creek care facility, once it’s operational, and the Willow Square facility, whatever that may become, are not the whole answer. The question is, how are they going to fit into an Aging with Dignity vision for Wood Buffalo.

“Canada and Alberta are firmly supportive of the WHO initiative and also, very recently, Edmonton declared itself to be pursuing the designation.”

Edmontonians are currently conducting an inventory of existing senior’s services and facilities and their gaps and residents and business communities are being encouraged to support goals and actions in eight key areas that are designed to improve seniors’ quality of life: Communication & Information; Community Support Services and Health Services; Housing, Outdoor Spaces & Buildings; Participation; Volunteerism & Employment; Respect & Social Inclusion; Social & Recreational Participation and Transportation.

However, while seniors – defined as anyone 65 and older – comprise 15 per cent of that city’s population, in Wood Buffalo, seniors are a small fraction of the region’s population. According to the 2012 Municipal Census, of the total (extrapolated to 100%) population of 119,496 that year, residents aged 65-75-plus numbered 1,088.

While Hodson is aware that our numbers are lower, he doesn’t believe that should justify a ‘low priority’ or a ‘do-nothing’ attitude.

“This isn’t just about the 65-plus," he adds. "Aging is a journey that we’re all on and this is about creating a vision for aging in Wood Buffalo that allows us to travel that journey with choices and dignity."

“Down south there are alternatives and choices that we quite frankly don’t have here. We all know the challenges of living in a unique community like Wood Buffalo and we constantly have to encourage ‘Made-in-WoodBuffalo’ solutions.

“With a smaller population, we have the opportunity to do it right. It’s not just the number that we need to look at. How many seniors would be here if we had choices? Also, what’s the value to the community and industry if you can bring your aging parents here? I personally know of several young couples in that situation. What would you say if this was your Mom and Dad we are talking about?”

“We need to identify as many options as possible since a number of the facilities and infrastructures that are currently providing services for the aging, such as Araubasca House and Legion Manor and Rotary House, are aging themselves.

“Somebody once said to me that Wood Buffalo is a great place to grow up. We’d like to make it a great place to grow old.”

To read more on aging, one of the most discussed and debated subjects in Canada today, see:
A Portrait of Seniors in Canada: Introduction, www.statcan.gc.ca, 1999/2014
Continuing Care Strategy: Aging in the Right Place, Alberta, 2008

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