Ucluelet is striving towards becoming an age friendly community.
About 30 communities have received Age-friendly Community Recognition from BCâ€™s Ministry of Health since 2012 and Ucluelet wants to add its name to that list.
The district is putting together an age friendly action plan and a community meeting was held on June 19 where Dr. Elaine Gallagher spoke to why becoming age friendly is important and how it could be achieved.
â€œI really commend you people in Ucluelet for wanting to get involved in this idea and I encourage you not to think of it as a short-term project,â€ she said.
â€œThis is a long-term process and I really encourage you to think about it in that way. Iâ€™d like to see it built into your planning process in the long run.â€
Gallagher was part of a research team tasked by the Ministry of Health to look at age friendliness in about 30 communities and said her research highlighted several key factors a community needs to succeed.
â€œThe first thing we found was that they really needed absolute strong support of local government,â€ she said.
â€œThey also needed a local champion, they needed at least one person in the community who got it, who understood what this was about.â€
She said her research helped develop a guide for businesses to create positive experiences for seniors.
â€œThese are very helpful in terms of thinking about your community as a place to grow old but also, in your case I would think as a tourism site and a destination site, for older people who want to come here and be able to find their way around the community and feel very comfortable and welcome,â€ she said.
She encouraged Ucluelet to create, and build, momentum in the age-friendly movement by launching small projects early on.
â€œWe found that if people could come up with some small, easy to do, changes at the very start it would grab peopleâ€™s interest; it would keep them engaged and involved,â€ she said.
â€œThereâ€™s some things, that donâ€™t cost a lot of money, that we can do quite quickly that will get us going and help keep the momentum going.â€
She added seniors must have opportunities for social participation.
â€œMost seniors have told us that they donâ€™t want to be isolated living all by themselves and seeing only older people, they want to have opportunities for mixing with people in different generations,â€ she said.
â€œOlder people want to be treated with respect and they want to be included in civic life.â€
She said potential emergency situations must be considered and cited a mudslide event in Pemeberton that shed light on a gap in that communityâ€™s emergency preparedness.
â€œOne of the problems during the mudslide and flood was that nobody seemed to know where the isolated seniors lived,â€ she said.
â€œAn age friendly community ought to give some thought to what happens if thereâ€™s a disaster…Itâ€™s probably a good idea to think about who looks after our seniors in our community if something like that happens.â€
During the public question period after Gallagherâ€™s presentation, Ucluelet local KK Hodder suggested accessibility is not just an issue for Uclueletâ€™s seniors.
â€œOne thing that I think would be a problem would be the lack of sidewalks,â€ she said. â€œYouâ€™re just kind of on shoulders with gravel…I stroll around with a baby carriage a lot so Iâ€™ve noticed that.â€
â€œIf you do make a community more senior friendly, you actually make it friendly for a lot of other people too and thatâ€™s why you get such good mileage out of putting on this kind of a lens for future planning. It really benefits everyone,â€ she said.
Coun. Randy Oliwa asked how Ucluelet could become a true age-friendly community given its current lack of medical services.
â€œThe day to day ongoing medical care of not just seniors but the entire community…how does that rate to actually have a medical facility thatâ€™s open in the community to be a true age friendly community,â€ he asked.
â€œYou could build the best sidewalks you can have the best covered areas you could have washrooms everywhere but right now, if thereâ€™s an (emergency) event all of our medical staff are tasked to run to Tofino.â€
Gallagher said some rural communities are finding ways to deal with their lack of medical access by bringing in nurse practitioners and utilizing telehealth resources.
â€œThese are partnerships that would need to be developed along the way,â€ she said. â€œThere are a lot of issues around health…Youâ€™d need to define what youâ€™re particular issues are and then look for some solutions that might fit for your community.â€