Senior navigators honored in Nova Scotia

Senior navigators (from left): Bertha Meister; Terry Keddy; Bob Hamersma; Helena DeCoste; Mike Myette, executive director of Nova Scotia 211; and Anna Roch, Seniors Navigator Project coordinator. Missing from photo: Wanda Finigan, Giselle Beauchamp, Lynn Connolly and Phyllis Price. (Contributed)

Typically, older people in Nova Scotia want to stay in their own homes or at least in their home communities for as long as possible. Connecting with appropriate services increases the possibility of being able to stay at home. It can be difficult for individuals or family members to find the required community resources, particularly if they are needed quickly.In 2015, the Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia received funding from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program to establish the Seniors Navigator Project. This initiative was designed to train senior volunteers in rural areas to act as resources to individuals seeking services or programs for seniors in their area.

The model is based on similar programs in Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. In the Nova Scotia model, calls from seniors or caregivers to Nova Scotia 211 can be referred to the local senior navigators if more individualized support is required in connecting to services. This relationship also works in reverse, as the senior navigators can refer people to Nova Scotia 211 as their first option for information.

At the end of June, the senior navigators from current pilot sites New Ross, Guysborough municipality and area and Annapolis Royal and Bear River in Annapolis County met each other and the telephone navigators at Nova Scotia 211 for the first time. The volunteers in the Seniors Navigator Project were thanked for their commitment to the project and their willingness to support seniors in their area with information and referrals.

The senior navigators are volunteers who come from all walks of life and have received training in understanding elder abuse, mental health first aid and the services of Nova Scotia 211 as well as learning about the types of services that are available in their area.

The stories shared at the first gathering of senior navigators outlined the typical challenges they encounter, including access to health services, literacy issues, transportation concerns and social isolation. They spoke of their approach to supporting seniors in their area — sharing information about resources, encouraging them to ask for help and supporting them to advocate for themselves. They each spoke of the importance of trust in their work.

Mike Myette, executive director of Nova Scotia 211, impressed on senior navigators the value of reporting outcomes.

“It is helpful to know anything that can help to improve our service,” said Myette, “and where there are gaps in service, Nova Scotia 211 is documenting this too so that program and policy makers have ready access to this information.”

The senior navigator model is an empowering model which supports older people to continue to contribute to their community as volunteers while supporting others to connect with the services that will allow them to age in place. In a province that is leading the country in the percentage of aging persons in the population and with a large population of people aging in rural areas, this is a model that could prove to be both helpful and cost effective.