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Region set to form Council of Aging this fall

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

After almost two years and input from 1,700 individuals and 20 community organizations, Durham’s long-term vision to make its communities more engaging for older residents is complete.

Sonya Hardman, policy and research advisor for the office of the regional chair and CAO says the region’s Age-Friendly Durham Strategy and Action Plan is ready for implementation.

In the next major step, a regional-wide Council on Aging is set to be established this fall and begin work on moving the plan forward.

The council will be comprised of residents as well as representatives of numerous sectors that focus on the needs of older adults.

“This will bring together a number of key partners in the community,” Hardman says. “It will allow us to develop an action plan and get to work on some of these recommendations (within the strategy).

“There is a lot in the plan that requires the actions of others,” Hardman continued. “There is a role for everybody to play in accomplishing the objectives that are set out.”

The four main goals listed within the strategy include engaging residents and stakeholders in an ongoing dialogue regarding the region’s aging population and the evolving needs of older adults; develop the planning and delivery of current and future services for older adults across the region’s eight municipalities; incorporate best practices from other jurisdictions and to encourage multi-level collaboration.

The strategy focuses on a variety of issues including health care services, transportation, outdoor spaces, housing, social and community participation, social inclusion, employment opportunities, and availability of information on services.

Health services was the most discussed issue in the consultation process for the strategy, Hardman noted.

“We need to continue to work with our partners, the provincial and federal governments and community organizations, towards a more integrated system that supports people regardless of what their health situation is,” Hardman says.

An immediate and long-term goal of the age-friendly strategy is to offer an adequate range of programs and services to residents all across the region, including long-term care beds, respite and palliative care and mental health services.

“Those are the type of services we need to make sure we have a good network and that it’s accessible to people across Durham Region,” Hardman says.

Based on public feedback, transportation is another key area of concern for many older adults.

“We really need to have affordable and adequate transportation options as people age,” Hardman says, noting planning should go beyond services offered by Durham Regional Transit, and should also focus on other modes of transit such as rail and taxi services, cycling and walking.

According to Hardman, there a number of objectives in the strategy that are already being addressed, but this strategy will be always be evolving.

“It’s a process, not a destination,” Hardman says.

The strategy will be subject to an annual evaluation and adapted as needed.

“We have to determine whether we are on track,” Hardman says. “Sometimes priorities change. If two years down the road, we hear [certain] priorities are no longer important we have to adapt.”

Hardman says the strategy will not only provide friendlier communities for those 55 and older right now but for future generations as well.

The consultation process for the age-friendly strategy lasted six months and was capped off with a community forum in September 2016 that was attended by more than 300 people.

The strategy and action plan were funded by a $50,000 grant through Ontario’s Age-Friendly Community Grant Program.

According to Age-Friendly Durham, a quarter of the region’s residents are 55 years or older, with that expected to rise to 34 per cent in 2031.