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The journey began in January of 1985. It has been a journey fraught with betrayals, court actions, advocacy, learning patience, overcoming often total disbelief and great hope. A decision was made in the early 90’s to print stationary, envelopes and business cards with the name Elder Advocates Of Alberta and the admonition, “Rise in the presence of the aged and honour the face of the old man.” Even the envelopes bear these words. The business cards contained the designation, Elder Advocate. This was a new concept and much scorned in those early years – we were often asked, what is an elder advocate? On December 21, 1992, the name Elder Advocates Of Alberta was formally registered with Consumer and Corporate Affairs disallowing anyone in future to use this name or form thereof. A vision to create an elder advocacy poster was discussed with artist, Susan Farrow Milner. There were those who derided this project, asking why would one wish to produce another poster. However the artist comprehended the vision and the dream was born. The poster bore the words, the elderly deserve dignity and our respect, they built this country. A ten member committee was formed and the concept was brought to reality, 10,000 posters were printed. Because the posters began to dissipate very quickly, another 10,000 were immediately printed. They were distributed by volunteers locally and across the province and mailed across the country and even to the US. A call came one morning form South Carolina. The caller stated she had seen the poster in a neighbouring town in a nursing home. The words dignity and respect were perceived to be old fashioned words, however 15,000 posters later, these words are found on every senior’s publication where care is defined. Each poster, which Elder Advocates Of Alberta sends out, is accompanied by a letter that states.
“We are attempting to raise the consciousness and conscience concerning the aged, not only because they are elderly, but because they have made an invaluable contribution to our country. We owe them a debt which can never be repaid. The very aged are the ones who endured hardships, the great depression, fought two world wars, faithfully paid their taxes and never asked for handouts. They worked from dawn to sunset; theirs was a difficult and arduous life. Today they deserve our honour and respect. We perceive the aged to be like sheaves of grain which reach their greatest value at maturity, old age should be a time of fullness and completion. Perhaps you would be interested to know that the watercolor painting on the Poster is by the Ottawa artist, Susan Farrow Milner who presently lives in Fort McMurray. The elderly lady portrayed on the Poster is a Mrs. McGinnis of Fort McMurray. She was a much beloved lady, an inspiration to many, who spent her last years in a wheel chair, cared for by her daughter. The lady portrayed in the wheel chair is a native lady who is being visited by her son”.
Shortly after, we developed an Elder Advocacy Display and an Elder Abuse Display.
These displays have travelled back and forth across the province and have been viewed by thousands at seminars, meetings, hospitals, senior fairs, malls, health and church conferences. They silently articulate the issues of elder respect and the untold abuses. For example, following a senior’s conference in Calgary, the premier viewed the Displays of Elder Advocates Of Alberta. The Next day some of the Calgary papers carried the headlines that elder abuse was an issue and would be dealt with. A three page elder abuse handout titled “What is elder abuse?” was prepared. Thousands of reprints have been made and we believe this information has promoted understanding of elder abuse issues and influenced the massive number of complaints and requests for investigation of elder abuse and neglect which have been made to the Health Facilities Review Committee, the Minister of Health, the present Minister for seniors, and the Protection For Persons in Care Act line. In the early to mid 90’s Elder Advocates Of Alberta continued to press for protective elder abuse legislation, meeting numerous times with MLA’s of all political persuasion, presenting them with accounts and photographs of abuse which illustrated our concerns. In 1995, legislation was passed with the consensus of the entire assembly and Elder Advocates Of Alberta was named in Hansard, with others, as those who had been instrumental in bringing about this legislation. It was not until 1998 that the legislation was proclaimed. The legislation is seriously flawed and is both ineffective and unenforceable, nevertheless it has been a strong acknowledgment by those in authority, that elder abuse and neglect is a societal issue. December 5, 1997, a Fatality Inquiry was held at the Provincial Court of Alberta concerning Gerald Awasis who had been a patient at the Alberta Hospital Edmonton. Elder Advocates Of Alberta appealed to the Honorable Judge David J. Tilley to have the Inquiry reopened. The Inquiry was reopened on September 22, 1998 and Elder Advocates Of Alberta was given standing. Elder Advocates Of Alberta were also given standing at the Nels Karsten Norregaard Fatality Inquiry of April 12 and 13th of April 2000, the Honorable Judge P.G.Sully presided. In May of 2004, the members of the Alberta Legislature recognized the Elder Advocates Of Alberta Society for their: “mission to bring mercy and compassion to our sick and helpless elderly and bring public awareness to the situation which frail elderly sometimes find themselves in”.In September of 2005 the Elder Advocates Of Alberta commenced a province wide radio campaign which is intended to stir the consciousness and conscience of those who are accountable for the care of the frail, dependent, voiceless elderly. The public service announcement which has been and which will be aired, reads as follows:
The Elder Advocates Of Alberta, advocate for the frail, dependent, voiceless elderly. They hold that all care facilities, large and small, that exist to serve the frail elderly, must be places of mercy and compassion. And equitable justice applied, to those who mistreat or harm the elderly.
Society and its’ leaders must not rest, until every vulnerable Albertan, receives safe, ethical, compassionate care. In this text, we are introducing the words and concept of service, mercy and compassion. Though we fully understand that the blight of elder abuse is not confined to our province but is a world wide phenomenon, we do strongly believe that the systemic culture of neglect which exists in our province today, can and will be healed.
It would take endless space to articulate all the advocacy issues the Elder Advocates Of Alberta have been involved in, from nursing homes to the court house, to the offices of professional associations, to the offices and chambers of the legislative assembly. It is a never ending, labor intensive journey.Seniors, their families and concerns are referred to the Elder Advocates Of Alberta Society by the Elder Abuse line, social workers, nurses, policemen, persons in government, persons employed in ministerial offices and others. Though they are aware that we have little power, they know that we will in some way help, encourage, advise, guide and support the individuals through their difficulties. The journey continues. We will not rest until justice, mercy and compassion define the care in Alberta’s elder care facilities. We will not grow weary.