A special message of support to active school staff from Gerry Tiede, President of the BC Retired Teacher’s Association:
Dear Teachers, Administrators and Support Staff across British Columbia,
On April 22, the Executive of the BC Retired Teachers’ Association took time to reflect on the unprecedented circumstances faced by our friends and active colleagues in the school system.
I am writing on behalf of our 17,000 members to express our concern for your well-being and to express our confidence in all of you. We know that however challenging it is to work with students in the new ways that the COVID-19 pandemic demands, that you bring the characteristics always shown by teachers, support staff and school and district administrators. When faced with challenges great or small, you have always stepped forward to meet the needs of students through creative problem-solving and good-will. Your students know it now more than ever, and so do we.
We are so very proud to be part of the same history and fraternity as you. Although we are required to be physically separated right now, we want you to know that we are cheering you on from the sidelines!
We wish you good health. Your work is appreciated by your retired colleagues.
Thank you and stay well,
BC Retired Teachers’ Association
During the COVID-19 pandemic, media across North America have been turning to PostScript Magazine columnist Dr. Roger Wong for expert advice on how seniors can get through this health crisis. In addition to his recent editorial in The Globe and Mail, Dr. Wong has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, Britain’s Daily Mail, National Post, Global News, CTV News and CBC. This article is adapted from a conversation Dr. Wong had with CBC’s Mike Killeen.
What special protection steps should we take for seniors?
First of all, we need to understand that seniors are more at risk and vulnerable for developing infections, including COVID-19. In part that’s because immune system function in seniors may not be working as well, and there are many seniors who live with long-standing health conditions.
Those with diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, for example, are predisposed to getting more infections including COVID-19. So it is important to remember what we can do to protect seniors.
Here are five tips on what we can do.
The first tip is to remember is good hygiene, washing your hands and keeping very good personal hygiene. That is true for everybody, particularly for seniors.
A second tip is for all of us who want to visit our seniors to do so virtually, rather than in person during the outbreak.
A third tip is to make sure seniors have adequate access to food and to medications.
The fourth tip is to make sure that physical distancing is practiced. For instance, buy groceries first thing in the morning rather than during a busy period. And when picking up medications, call in first or have someone pick them up. There are a good number of supermarkets and pharmacies with dedicated times for seniors, which is excellent.
The fifth tip is to remember that physical distancing does not mean social isolation, because we know that loneliness and social isolation can have negative impacts on seniors’ health. So while we are practicing physical distancing to protect seniors, we must also be regularly interacting with them, through computer technology, social media, or if they prefer, by telephone.
Many seniors use technology, but some don’t.
A simple phone call can be very helpful for seniors who do not have access to apps and devices. The pandemic situation right now is unprecedented. That simple outreach becomes especially important for seniors who live with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, because they may not understand what is going on. For them, we have to keep our message very simple. We may need to repeat it by saying, “we love you very much, this is a very different time now, we are protecting you, you are in a safe place, and we will be talking over the telephone more often.”
For those on social media, it is a good time to electronically share photo albums, you can go over virtually the old photos together, which is good social engagement.
How about a short visit from the grandchildren, if we are all healthy? We really miss them.
That’s an excellent question. We need to remember that seniors can get COVID-19 through one of two ways.
The first way involve seniors who are mobile, they may get the infection when they are out in public places, such as on public transportation, and when they come into contact with the virus.
But the second way seniors can get infection is through other people transmitting the infection to them. And oftentimes, people who are spreading the virus may not have symptoms. Now that we have this extended time when children are out of school, many seniors, understandably, would like to contribute to the family by caring for the children. But I would advise against doing this unless the senior has already been a part of your household. I would advise to use technology to keep the generations connected. Have a Skype call from one household to another.
Here’s another question. I’m in my late 60s, should I avoid going out to the grocery store and the pharmacy?
Well these are basic needs. My advice to older adults is to try to go during off-peak hours, such as first thing in the morning, A number of pharmacies and supermarkets have dedicated their early morning operating hour for seniors and those who are vulnerable to developing the infection. I really think this should be applauded.
How can I care for a senior spouse with COVID-19 at home and at the same time protect myself?
This is a difficult situation and there are two aspects to this. First is the physical aspect of providing care and then secondly the psychological or mental health aspect.
Let me start with the challenges from the physical point of view. It is important to remember that for care providers to someone who has COVID-19, that they must first of all protect themselves, because otherwise, if they also fall sick, then the situation could get much worse. So that means wearing personal protective equipment, meticulous hand washing and personal hygiene, and also having some form of physical isolation even within the same household. For example, use a different room for the person that has COVID-19 and then the caregiving spouse stays in a different room.
During mealtimes, avoid eating at the same table. This is also difficult because mealtime is the time for socialization, but as I mentioned before, use technology or virtual means whenever possible.
There’s a lot of psychological stress going on right now—it’s a very difficult time but particularly when your spouse gets sick, you feel the double burden of providing care and concern about the outcome of their disease. You may even feel guilty and say to yourself, “why is it that I am feeling well and my spouse is not?”
This is a stressful situation and it is really important to talk to someone. Talk to your family, neighbours, or anyone who can offer emotional support and practical help.
In BC we also have the 211 telephone line which offers expanded support during COVID-19. This is a fantastic resource to provide connections to seniors who are in need of support during the outbreak. People on the 211 line can talk to your about both physical and mental health needs. As well, many of my medical students at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine are working on initiatives to support those seniors affected who may not have access to food or medication delivery.
What about seniors’ residences where up to 50 people are eating together, four to a table?
We need to remember that seniors who are residing in care homes or long-term care, are our most vulnerable to developing COVID-19. They may have difficulty walking, and some of them may live with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Knowing the level of care residents in care homes need is really important. Everyone who provides care to these residents must wear personal protective equipment and practice meticulous hand and personal hygiene. That includes protection of residents who are ill with COVID-19 so that there’s no cross infection. A lot of times we need to remember that keeping the physical distance within care homes may not be easy. It really depends on the physical layout of the homes.
We want to guard against social isolation as well. Remember physical distancing does not mean social isolation. We should use technology to virtually connect with seniors in care homes – this is the compassionate thing to do.
We are vulnerable and immune compromised. Sometimes we walk our dog. Is it safe to walk our dog?
First, I would say that physical distancing basically means maintaining a minimum distance of two metres or six feet between any two people, in order to protect ourselves from getting COVID-19.
This also means that we stay home as much as possible and try to minimize the amount of time we spend outside of home. It is fine for us to modify our exercise or walking routine with our pets while keeping the physical distance from others while outdoors. I would suggest going during off hours when there are not too many other walkers around. Go as one or two people at a time, always keeping that physical distance of two metres apart.
I have a loved one with a heart condition and diabetes, how long should I stay away from them during this time?
Seniors who are immunosuppressed, meaning their immune system not working as well, are more at risk for developing COVID-19. We therefore need to protect them for as long as COVID-19 is prevalent in the community. So I would recommend exercising caution and protection for some time to come.
Should senior caregivers and individuals be wearing protective gear?
In your own home, there is no reason to be wearing personal protective equipment, except when providing health care to someone with COVID-19. In British Columbia, all health care providers must wear personal protective equipment during all direct patient care encounters. This requirement also applies to workers in care homes.
Is it safe for seniors to order food from delivery services?
For many seniors, food delivery or grocery delivery or medication delivery is an important help during this time when people are trying to maintain a physical distance.
Delivery service is reasonably safe, especially when it is contactless (for example, leaving the product at the front door), and provided that the moment after you have taken in the product delivered, make sure to immediately wash your hands.
Dr. Roger Wong, thanks so much for your time this afternoon. We really appreciate it.
Thank you very much.
More links from Dr. Roger Wong on the COVID-19 crisis and seniors:
- NEW UBC Pathways Magazine Special Edition: COVID-19 and Seniors’ Health
- Dr. Wong’s Globe and Mail article “Removing Seniors From Care Homes is Not the Solution”
- Dr. Wong’s TedX Vancouver talk on Keeping Seniors Safe in Their Own Homes
- UBC article and video on supporting seniors during Covid crisis
- PostScript Magazine, where Dr. Wong is a regular columnist
Dr. Roger Wong is Executive Associate Dean (Education) in the Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, a geriatrics specialist doctor, clinical professor of geriatric medicine, the 13th President of the Canadian Geriatrics Society, and a TEDx speaker. He tweets at @RogerWong10.
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
COVID 19 has brought change to all our lives. As seniors, we are in the most vulnerable group and will need to avoid direct contact with other people for some time. I want you to know that BCRTA will continue to serve our members in the months ahead.
Here is some information for our members:
Our office continues to operate as usual with our BCRTA staff working remotely. Your phone calls are directed to our staff who are working their regular hours, have access to all our computer systems and are ready to help you. All BCRTA member services continue to be active, except of course we can’t accept visitors to our office.
All BCRTA meetings have been canceled or postponed indefinitely. That includes our Board meetings, committee meetings, zone meetings and pension education workshops. We have also encouraged our branches to cancel all their meetings.
Our Board and Branch Executives have responsibilities that are laid out in our Bylaws and policies. During this time we will focus on the most important ones and deal with them through email or on-line meetings. We accept that some decisions may be delayed as our leaders make choices that are in the best interest of our members. For example, your branch may ordinarily hold an Annual General Meeting in May which will need to be rescheduled for some time in the fall. Your branch leaders will keep you posted on what they are doing.
When the ‘physical distancing’ orders are removed across BC we will all make decisions to get BCRTA business meetings back on schedule.
Teachers’ Pension Plan
With the hit to the economy of the world, the health of our pension plan is on our minds. Certainly there will be short-term losses in some of our investments, but we need to remember that our plan began this year in a surplus position with significant reserves. Our investments have benefited from 11 straight years of good returns and a downturn of some type was expected. The TPP’s investment managers were able to diversify to other types of investments to reduce the effect of losses in the stock markets.
Also, our pension is a defined benefit plan. That means that our pension is not dependant on the day-to-day performance of the investment market.
Updated information is available at https://tpp.pensionsbc.ca/
One note about service levels at the TPP: Many of the Pension Corporation staff are currently working remotely. While everything is in place to handle any pension business or questions, you may experience some minor delays in getting a response.
Here is the most important thing: Our pension payments are secure and will continue to be deposited into our bank accounts right on time.
We are also fortunate to live in a stable and prosperous Canada, so our OAS and CPP payments are also secure.
We have been in regular contact with our Johnson Insurance partners. They, too, have closed their office to visitors but continue to provide services. Johnson has worked to help our traveling members return to Canada; their insurance coverage continues for those who have been unable to return to Canada. Johnson has devoted their staff time to reimbursing our members for their trip interruption and trip cancellation claims. We expect that the cost of all these travel claims will likely dwarf the normal medical costs that they pay this year.
The events of these past weeks emphasize the value of our insurance plans to our members. The reason we have travel insurance is not only for protection from the cost of individual accidents and sickness but also from the costs of disasters or pandemics like the one we are currently experiencing.
The traveling behavior of all Canadians has changed and that will likely continue for awhile. I would encourage you to take some time before making decisions about your own future travel and insurance needs. Our insurance policies with Johnson are all one-year contracts which end on September 30th each year. BCRTA will continue to work with Johnson insurance to be sure our plans meet our members’ needs.
It is also important to remember that when Johnson advises us that certain travel costs will not be covered by insurance during this time it is not because they have changed their policies. What has happened is that world events have activated conditions in the insurance contracts, such as limits on coverage for travel to a location that is covered by a government of Canada advisory. What is unique about this situation is that it is not one or two locations that are the advisory “hotspots” but the entire world.
BCRTA will continue to work for the best interests of our members when it comes to securing both EHC and travel insurance coverage and understanding the coverage available.
For current updates from Johnson visit https://www.johnson.ca/coronavirus
COVID 19 Scams
The COVID 19 disaster has brought out the best is most people, but it has also brought out the worst in others. There are a lot of scams in play as those without a conscience try to take advantage of our curiosity and anxiety. Be sure you access reputable sources for information – BC Center for Disease Control http://covid-19.bccdc.ca/ or Canada Health Services https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html
Do not open unsolicited emails about COVID 19 and above all, do not open attachments or links in those emails. To do so invites another kind of virus into your computer which may steal your personal and credit card information. See the Canadian Anti-fraud Center – https://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/features-vedette/2020/covid-19-eng.htm
The Little Black Book of Scams provides general information about protecting yourself and is available from the Competition Bureau of Canada. https://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/vwapj/CB-lBBS2-EN.pdf/$file/CB-lBBS2-EN.pdf
Physical Distancing – not Social Distancing!
Now is a good time for us all to pick up the phone or message a friend, neighbour or family member. It’s a bit lonely for some of us to stay physically isolated for such a long time but we need to make that extra effort to keep up our social connections!
We Can All Do Something
We know from our recent survey that BCRTA members provide over $50 million worth of unpaid volunteer efforts to their communities each year. It is part of who we are. We want to help, to contribute, to work for a better world. Right now it may feel that all that goodwill is being bottled up at home. How frustrating!
But even if we can’t get out and about like we want to, there is one activity that is guaranteed to do good: Reach out! Pick up the phone and reach out to your isolated neighbours. Send a note by email to someone you know who is working hard at a medical facility or serving in a grocery store. Chat with the sibling that you meant to call but could never find the time. Play Scrabble online with your grandchildren.
If You Need Help
The Office of the Seniors’ Advocate has a phone line and a website to provide personal supports for seniors. Call 211 or http://www.bc211.ca/ to access their services.
And Finally: Getting stir crazy?
Here is a list of things you can do:
· Email and video calls to family and friends
· Volunteering in the community – community kitchen; meals on wheels, etc.
· Getting outside each day for a walk
· Going through closets to put together give-away items
· Reviewing photo albums, rearranging, re-organizing and reminding of better times
· Puzzles, board games, crokinole,
· Shredding documents that are no longer needed
· Netflix, Crave, Apple TV – binge watching
· Cooking – creating and trying new recipes
· Home improvement projects
· Spring Cleaning
· Listening to music
· Dance – Line Dance, “Dancing as no one is watching” – because no one is!
· U Tube videos
· Write, draw, paint, photography
· Play an instrument, sing, dance, act
· Take a shower or a bath
· Go for a drive
· Watch cute kitten videos on YouTube
· Play a game
· Write a note to someone you care about
· Care for or play with a pet
· Make a list of inspirational quotes
· Make a gratitude list
· Write a list of goals
· Take a class or webinar
· Write a list of strengths
· Laugh at least once per day
· Get enough sleep
· Eat healthy foods
· Create a good routine
· Eat a little chocolate
· Limit caffeine
· Practice deep/slow breathing
· Pray or meditate
· Enjoy nature via video, movies or magazines
· Prioritize important tasks
BC Retired Teachers’ Association
550 West 6th Avenue, Suite 100
Vancouver, BC V5Z 4P2
Toll Free 1.877.683.2243