The B.C. government said it is expanding the 211 program to help seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health Minister Adrian Dix and B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie made the announcement in Victoria Thursday.
The 211 phone line for community services can be accessed anywhere in the province.
Seniors who need help or people who want to help with delivering meals or doing virtual visits can now call the number. Operators will then connect people in different communities.
United Way Centraide Canada and the 211 National Service Provider Network already provide information on government and community-based health and social services.
The 211 network now includes northern B.C. and the B.C. Interior. The number was already available in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
Mackenzie said she expects thousands to want to help seniors based on the community involvement seen across B.C. so far. Volunteers will receive a criminal record check and will have to do the COVID-19 self-assessment online.
The virtual visits can also be accessed by seniors in care homes.
Mackenzie said the province will also increase funding for the Better At Home program, which helps seniors remain independent at home and stay connected with their community.
“Seniors want to do the right thing and stay at home but they are going to need our help to do this,” Mackenzie said.
“If we put ourselves in the shoes of a senior, we can begin to understand the challenges older people face. They are frankly afraid that if they get [COVID-19] they will die.”
The support for seniors comes after cross-party committee formed last week to address the vulnerabilities of seniors coping with the possibility of increased isolation as a result of physical distancing.
Canada’s first COVID-19-related death occurred more than two weeks ago at North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre, a for-profit privately owned long term care centre.
As of this week, 11 of the facility’s residents have died and more than three dozen have tested positive for COVID-19. Nineteen staff members have also contracted the virus.
Outbreaks have been detected in six other long-term care facilities.
In one of those cases, an employee who worked at the Lynn Valley facility is believed to have transmitted the novel coronavirus to Hollyburn House in West Vancouver.
The number of cases at Vancouver’s Haro Park Centre spiked this week to include 28 residents and 27 staff members. Henry confirmed a death at the facility on Monday.
She said the situation has underscored the “fragility” of B.C.’s long-term care homes in the face of the threat of COVID-19.
Henry has introduced measures limiting employees of long-term care, acute care and assisted-living facilities to working in a single facility. She has also mandated increased screening and protocol around visitors and protective gear.
With files from CBC