A grassroots effort to promote healthy aging in New Brunswick offers some lessons learned in its first three years of activity.
Jodi Hall, director of operations for the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes (NBANH), has been actively engaged from the get-go.
She suggests that in addition to an intentionality about how people were engaged (Read Part 1 for more), several factors external to the initial organizing group were integral to success.
New Brunswick is now one of the Canada’s oldest provinces. It is also in a time of unprecedented transition demographically as more young people leave for higher-paying employment elsewhere.
An understanding of this shift has created an environmental readiness for an effort of this kind in that residents are ready and willing to get involved, Jodi says.
The healthy aging effort has also gained political support for its various activities, including its public summit, follow-up Maestro conference and a collaborative of about 30 organizations.
Jodi herself has spoken with the premier on several occasions, who in that time has expressed support for the effort.
A key element in generating the political will, Jodi believes, is that the initiative has never been framed as an advocacy attempt or “us-versus-them” scenario in terms of the grassroots versus government.
“It was always framed as how can we work together with government,” Jodi says.
Government isn’t capable of achieving the degree of change required in the coming years on its own any way. “It has to be a collective effort. That was our messaging, and it was well received.”
Public engagement in the summit has also been an external factor enabling success. Jodi says she didn’t appreciate how much desire people had to express themselves on this particular subject until the summit, which convened more than 300 participants. In that forum, it was clear people were eager to share their thoughts and ideas.
The initiative has also found it valuable to investigate the experiences of other jurisdictions, such as Denmark, that are leading the way in aging care.
Sustaining the Momentum
To sustain momentum, a backbone organization must exist to keep the effort structured and moving forward, which is the role the NBANH and Jodi in particular have filled to date.
Staying connected with the grassroots will also be absolutely vital to sustaining momentum and achieving the vision, Jodi says.
Connection to the grassroots began with the summit and continued through a Maestro conference where a plan based on summit feedback was presented.
It continues to be a focus as the collaborative takes shape. The social prototyping component of the collaborative provides lots of space for grassroots engagement in particular. With that approach, people can share ideas for action communities can take to become more age-friendly. A first step in realizing those ideas is looking to the community to discover what assets already exist that might be brought together.
A key opportunity linked to New Brunswick’s September elections also offers another path for connection between the grassroots and government on the topic of healthy aging.
With the NBANH’s board support, a leaders’ forum will take place two weeks before the election, with the five provincial party leaders answering five key questions related to aging and seniors’ care in the province.
Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger
Editor’s Note: Charles Holmes has played an integral role as dialogue facilitator in this healthy aging effort. Click here to read about Axiom News’ partnership with Charles Holmes Consulting and the intent of the stories in this series.