TUESDAY, MAR. 22: Welcome to Day Two of the National Conference on Ageing.

Yesterday, this Conference addressed the current status of seniors in Bermuda – where we are now and how we got here.

You heard from the Honourable Premier regarding the commitment of this Government to develop a strategy which will provide sustainability for the changing demographic shift we are currently experiencing.

Several speakers identified seniors as the fastest-growing segment of our population.

You have all heard and seen the numbers:

  • 11%, or 6,722 people were elderly in the year 2000;
  • the 45 to 64 year age group increased from 20% of the population to 24% between 1991 and 2000;
  • indications are that by 2025 the senior population (those over the age of 65) will outnumber the youth population.

An increasing elderly population, coupled with a shrinking pool of local working age people, has serious long term implications for the Government.

Yesterday you also heard from Dr. Astwood, who spoke on the need for accountability from not only Government, but from society as a whole.  And as the day progressed, you deliberated and reached a consensus of our current state of affairs.

Knowing and assessing where we are now is vital to planning where we WANT to go – where we NEED to go – in the future.

There is a saying: “If we don’t know where we are going, we will end up somewhere else”.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I believe Bermuda is a country that charts its own path – that knows where it’s going.

We are stewards of our own destiny.

This Conference is about our current seniors, but it’s also about providing for future seniors.

We do not wish to respond just to the present needs – we also need to look to the needs of the future.

Today we move toward the future.

Today you will hear about the Global impact and implications of ageing.

You will also hear about the options available for funding and sustainability.  Together, you will provide the Government with a series of ideas that will form the next steps in the development of a National Plan.

As the Minister responsible for seniors, I would like to start by explaining my philosophical approach and vision.

I believe that we must have a vision for how our people should be treated and served and that this vision should be based on fundamental principles of human rights and in the context of local and cultural norms.

However, we must not simply maintain the status quo.  We should be prepared to be creative and to think outside the box.

When it comes to seniors, my Ministry believes that seniors should be able to lead active lives but that this process does not start at 65.

We believe that ageing is a process.

It is a natural part of life, and it is difficult to understand how one can embrace birth and youth as important elements of living but have negative perceptions about growing old.

Becoming a senior is just a part of life’s continuum and has its appropriate role in the system.

Your Conference Programme has a diagram that depicts what are considered to be essential service requirements for seniors.

There may be some disagreement about the elements in the outer circle, but there can be no disagreement that the focus must be on seniors and that there are four general, or high level, requirements:

  • long term care,
  • health care,
  • community-based social services, and
  • access to services.

What we have to determine is:

  • what systems we will develop to ensure that these elements are provided, and
  • who will be accountable for their delivery.

To date we have not always done very well at identifying who is accountable.

Yesterday, Dr. Cann told you about several reports and studies connected with seniors, but much of that work had gone undelivered in a logical and deliberate manner.

This has not been a good use of manpower or resources.

We must take stock, and establish a system that ensures sustainability and addresses the needs of subgroups within the senior population and has accountability for delivery.

What we have to determine is:

  • what are the benefits of becoming a senior;
  • what roles seniors should have; and
  • how seniors should be treated.

Our vision is to see a Bermuda where seniors are considered a valued sector of our community and have a role to play in the development of our country based on their experiences and abilities.

Therefore, we have a responsibility to ensure that they live in an environment which allows them to continue to contribute and that the systems that encourage that contribution are sustainable.

How do we achieve that?

First we must have a commitment to have a plan.

We must agree on the way forward, and we must ensure that we have the opportunity to evaluate progress and make changes when we are not delivering.

Part of our plan involves the concept of “Active Ageing” which represents a real shift from the current model of “ageing as a dependent stage of life”.

“Active” refers to continuing participation in social, economic, cultural, spiritual, and civic affairs – not just the ability to be physically active or participate in the work force.

There are many reasons why active ageing is important to a community.  There are also many things that a community can do to encourage active ageing as well.  For example, we can develop elder friendly communities and encourage intergenerational interaction.

In order for society to benefit, we must start the process now – and not only for existing seniors – but for the young man and woman in their 30’s who will become seniors one day.

These are revolutionary times that need revolutionary thinking.

We need to develop policy – but not in isolation.

We also need to develop plans for the implementation of that policy.

In our current world, which has a growing population of older people, we have to view ageing as a life-long and society-wide phenomenon.

The pictures around you display seniors being active.

This is very deliberate.

We want you to grasp the concept of active ageing.

We want you to have images fixed in your mind of seniors being engaged in some activity…so as you deliberate you will be able to move Bermuda towards this new concept of active ageing.

But why act now?...

The current global financial crisis and its impact on Bermuda demands a new approach to business.

The past three years have clearly shown that the global economy excludes no region or country.

It has demonstrated that we are linked more than we were prepared to admit in the past.

The need to have a strategic, evidenced-based, well researched and formulated National Ageing Plan has been identified as we looked at our healthcare systems.

Recognition must be given to my predecessors, the former Ministers of Health, the late Honorable Nelson Bascome, JP, MP, and the Honorable Walter Roban, JP, MP for their vision.

In 2009 the Honorable Premier, at the request of Minister Bascome, transferred the National Office for Seniors and Physically Challenged to the Ministry of Health.

This was intended to improve the synergy between the functions of that Office and the projects within the Ministry of Health.

What became clear is that the threads that link the different parts of the system providing services to seniors weaves a complex pattern.

Issues such as respite care, elder abuse, long term care, community support for care givers, transportation and financial aid are all threads within the same fabric.

Pull one thread, and the pattern in another part of the fabric can be impacted.

It was clear that we needed to have a holistic approach to resolve the issues.

Here are some expectations that have been agreed on by one of the pre-conference subcommittees:

  • Persons who wish to, and are able to, should be cared for in their own homes;
  • Residential long term care should not be the first, nor only, option, but one of a wide range of housing options;
  • Facilities should provide a continuum of care so that residents don’t have to relocate when their needs change;
  • Health promotion and prevention should be key components of home healthcare delivery;
  • Seniors should have choices regarding transport that take in to account their differing needs and abilities;
  • Informal care givers should have access to support; and
  • Seniors should have easy access to information about, and be familiar with, the range of services offered on the island.

These are just a few of the expectations that already exist.

However, along with expectations is a need to identify gaps in the process.

Yesterday you heard from a number of speakers who identified a range of gaps in the system.

In the past, we have not been good at addressing the gaps.

We have talked a lot, documented a lot but we have experienced challenges when it comes to implementation.

Don’t get me wrong…I am not saying nothing has been done, accomplished or achieved.

What is being said is, that in order to be effective, we need to have a plan that allows us to implement in a logical and methodical fashion.

That has been the missing piece.

We need to plan and in order to have a plan we need to collaborate at the national level.

However it is the Government that must take the lead on the development of policy.

Sometimes we might need to be pushed and pulled, and that’s the role of the advocacy groups.

But the Plan belongs to the country, and the Government is responsible and accountable for that Plan.

There are fundamental questions to be answered, and the answers will determine how we, as a society, look after one of our more vulnerable groups.

But even that statement may be a misnomer.

It implies that all seniors are vulnerable.

Are we sure of that?  Would all of you agree with that?

Are seniors more vulnerable than any other segment of the population?

Or are seniors a contributing, valuable part of our larger population?

The timing of this Conference couldn’t be better from the point of view that it ties in with the recently released National Health Plan Consultation Paper.

We believe that the National Health Plan will lay the foundation for a 21st century health system for Bermuda

The National Health Plan has two pillars:  equity and sustainability.  These are the core values that we propose should be the foundation of our health system.

In addition, the Plan has eleven goals which are designed to achieve those core values.

Many of these goals will address issues faced by our seniors, but as you continue with your deliberations today, I ask you to remember that healthcare and long term care are not the only issues which need to be addressed.

If we are to deliver on the vision of Active Ageing for Bermuda, we have to look at much more than just medical care and nursing homes.

We have to consider:

  • The environments in which are seniors live,
  • Physical accessibility issues,
  • Nutrition programmes,
  • Legal issues,
  • Financial issues,
  • The challenges faced by care givers;
  • Family dynamics, and many, many more.

Please spend your day productively.  Put your heads together and make sure that the two days that you spend here result in:

  • a Plan that you can be proud of;
  • a Plan that can be implemented; and
  • a Plan that will benefit all seniors in Bermuda.
Thank You.