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Volunteers needed to survey West Kootenay seniors living in care

Nelson and Kaslo are first, with others to follow after Christmas
The survey team will include British Columbians from a wide variety of backgrounds who engage with seniors as equals, in a conversation about what life is like in the place they live. Photo: Unsplash

Do you like listening to other people’s stories? Particularly seniors?

Then the opportunity to become a trained volunteer surveyor in West Kootenay long-term care homes may be just for you.

The B.C. senior advocate’s office has launched a second province-wide survey to hear directly from residents living in 294 publicly subsidized long-term care homes, and is calling on all interested British Columbians to join the survey team.

“We need volunteers to be the hands and feet on the ground to listen to the stories of vulnerable seniors,” explains spokesperson Emily Jurek, regional engagement lead, office of patient-centred medicine, B.C. Ministry of Health. “We need a team of dedicated community members in your area to engage with the seniors in Trail’s three long-term care homes from January to March 2023. There are also several facilities in other nearby communities.”

Jurek notes that Trail has a number of Italian-speaking community members.

“We have been able to translate the survey into Italian, and volunteers who speak this language are especially valuable to us,” she said.

The survey is scheduled to start at the end of November in care homes around the West Kootenay. Nelson and Kaslo are first, with the others to follow after Christmas.

Jurek notes that it takes a few weeks to on-board a volunteer before they’re ready to enter a care home and conduct surveys.

One volunteer from the first survey, launched in 2016, is Jennifer Sirges. She shares what a life-changing experience this was for her.

“Finding myself ‘between careers’ in 2016, I was interested in a short-term volunteer opportunity, and saw this role as a chance to see if I would enjoy working with seniors as much as I expected to,” Sirges began. “The training taught me about the importance of a structured, consistent approach to survey-taking, and how to communicate gently with individuals who have a variety of frailties and vulnerabilities.”

Jennifer Sirges and her mom, 90-year old Beryl, who is not in care. Photo: Submitted
Jennifer Sirges and her mom, 90-year old Beryl, who is not in care. Photo: Submitted

At first she was nervous about actually going into the care homes to conduct surveys, but it quickly proved to be immensely rewarding.

“I was able to set my own schedule, and loved listening to intriguing individuals with stories to tell,” Sirges explains. “When my volunteer role came to an end, I felt so good about my experience – and about the local care homes — that I took steps to earn my Class 4 drivers license and applied to work with recreation programs in long-term care.”

Information about joining the survey team is available by calling the Office of the Seniors Advocate at 1.877.952.3181 or 2-1-1 or by visiting:

The survey examines quality of life in long-term care, with topics such as food, safety, comfort, respect and responsiveness of staff, personal relationships, medications and activities. Residents will be interviewed in-person and their family members will be invited to participate by phone, online or via a written survey. A final report is planned for spring 2023.

Sirges said she spent over 50 hours working on the 2016/2017 initiative.

“I can’t remember exactly the number of seniors I spoke to or the stories specifically, but I remember the impression: every encounter left me feeling blessed to have touched this small moment in a person’s life, to seek their opinion and to record their thoughts, with the (hopeful) prospect that there could be change for the better,” Sirges said.

“Taking time to listen can sometimes, well, take time, and that’s partly the point of the seniors’ advocate survey.”

Members of the survey team will include British Columbians from a wide variety of backgrounds who engage with seniors as equals, in a conversation about what life is like in the place they live. Surveyors are supported by health care professionals from the Ministry of Health, health authorities and individual care homes. Volunteers will be screened for suitability and participate in training sessions to prepare them for conducting surveys with a minimum of 10 care home residents during the survey period.

“I found I really enjoyed spending time with these seniors, and I think many of them may have enjoyed the conversations, too,” Sirges adds. “Some conversations were short and still others were impossible, but every encounter was a connection.”

The 2017 final report Every Voice Counts: Provincial Residential Care Survey Results made recommendations for system improvements including: increasing care hours and ensuring staffing levels are enforced and monitored by heath authorities; increasing flexibility of how and when care and services are delivered; examining opportunities to improve the mealtime experience; and increasing training focused on the emotional needs of residents.

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Sheri Regnier

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