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'We need to make the rights of older people a priority': B.C. doctor addresses UN

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Dr. Kathleen Ross, a family doctor in Metro Vancouver and president of the Canadian Medical Association, addressed the UN Tuesday – advocating for a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons.

“We’re hoping to cement a convention that would have a legally binding framework, with accountability built in, so that we can truly drive change based on a human rights issue,” said Ross via Zoom from Manhattan.

The UN has more than 600 conventions covering issues involving race, migrant workers and children.

Explaining why she is advocating for this, Ross cited personal examples of B.C.’s healthcare system failing her patients.

“I know adults who are actually considering Medical Assistance in Dying to avoid becoming that burden, to avoid being subjected to this type of care,” said Ross to the UN panel.

She also brought up issues with senior care that were exposed during the pandemic and the 2021 heat dome, where more than 600 people died.

“Seventy per cent of the people who died in one week were over the age of 70,” said Ross, speaking about the extreme weather event.

In her roughly 10 minutes of allotted time, Ross also spoke of the Canadian medical system’s lack of staff and resources when it comes to providing care for seniors.

Terry Lake, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, echoes Ross’ sentiment.

“There’s a real gap in the supply of care and demand,” said Lake. “We see so many people that are caring for their loved ones and can’t find the necessary help with that care, whether that be in long-term care or home health, provided by health authorities.”

Lake says the staffing situation is worse in rural B.C.

Earlier this year, the federal government offered a funding boost, with B.C. receiving more than $700 million over five years to address issues including long-term care, dementia care and the need for more staff.

With a rapidly aging population, Ross says policymakers at all levels need to act fast.

“It really is time that we have hard conversations on what’s limiting progress on the unconscious, and sometimes, not so unconscious bias that we have against older persons,” said Ross.

Discussions around the Convention on the Rights of Older Persons have been ongoing for 14 years but the UN has yet to commit to its creation.

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