EDMONTON - March 11, 2021 marks the one year anniversary of the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, and seniors groups, labour groups, and advocacy groups are gathering outside of the Federal Building at the Legislature to install an visual representation of the lives we have lost to COVID-19, especially those of Alberta’s seniors who have been disproportionately affected. The visual will be a collection of roses, made by Erin Alyward, each one colour coded to show the age of the person we lost. The advocates and activists will also be joined by members of Alberta Arts Action Group, a group which blends arts and activism, who will sing and recite poetry as we mark this solemn occasion.
Terry Price, president of Public Interest Alberta, highlighted the seniors’ care system's failures which have led to disproportionate deaths among seniors in care.
“The issues facing the seniors’ care sector are nothing new, the pandemic has just made it worse and displayed the deficiencies Alberta seniors were already suffering to disastrous results,” said Price. “Over 64% of the deaths all over Alberta for this pandemic have been in continuing care; this avoidable tragedy is visually represented by the large number of white, silver, and gold roses in our visual display, each representing one death of an Albertan over the age of 60.”
Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare, urged policymakers to take action on behalf of Alberta seniors.
“Friends of Medicare have been ringing the alarm when it comes to the long-standing issues in our seniors’ care for over 40 years,” said Azocar. “COVID-19’s toll on Alberta’s continuing care system has exposed many of the cracks that have been formed as a result of decades of privatization, and the inequity that perpetual cost-cutting has wrought. We have an urgent responsibility to learn the difficult lessons of this pandemic to ensure that nothing like this tragedy will ever occur again.”
Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta, echoed Azocar’s comments. “Advocates have called for changes to seniors’ care for decades. We could have done better. We must do better in the future,” said Smith.
John Wodak, chairman of the Seniors’ Action and Liaison Team, reiterated how the glacial pace of improvements to the seniors care system has wreaked havoc on the quality of life of Alberta seniors.
“Everyone who has or has had a family member in Long Term Care knows what the system is like,” said Wodak. “Those who have tried to improve the system have found it to be a very frustrating endeavour.”
The powerful visual display of roses representing each life lost to COVID-19 as well as poetry and song performances demonstrate the power of combining arts and activism.
“Studies show that actively participating in art, whatever the medium, can keep us engaged in life in positive, healthy and fulfilling ways,” said Karen Bishop, co-founder of the Alberta Arts Action Group. “COVID-19 has affected seniors, especially those in care, in profound ways. Their ability to create and express art has been severely limited to the point of being almost non-existent. Restrictions on gatherings and visitations as well as challenges in staffing has made participation in such activities extremely difficult. A system that was already strained is now completely broken and the psychological and physiological health of seniors has been massively impacted. Seniors and their families patiently waited for help and relief. We join them and advocate for significant improvements to their quality of care—the time is now.”
This powerful display and the tragedy that it represents should serve as a stark reminder of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on vulnerable Albertans, and a clear indication that the Alberta government must do better in seniors’ care, both during this pandemic and beyond. Alberta seniors deserve better.