The United Way Eastern Ontario has released a new caregiver strategy, which provides particular focus on non-paid caregivers working with family members.

The Eastern Ontario Caregiver Strategy was developed over the past two years as a collaboration between the Champlain Community Support Network, Champlain Dementia Network and the United Way Eastern Ontario. The document’s recommendations are intended to provide a road map for planning, programs, and action which will better support caregivers and their families in the region.

“In Prescott-Russell we have an advisory committee with approximately 12 agencies who meet on a regular basis and the objective is to look at the well-being of seniors in our area.” said Agata Michalska, Regional Director of United Way Prescott-Russell. “A lot of the work that is outlined in the strategy will be going through that committee in determining how the agencies can work collaboratively to advance the recommendations.”

While all of the consultations for the report were completed before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the document also addresses the increased isolation and burnout it has caused for both seniors and their caregivers. With many in-person programs having closed their doors to reduce the spread of COVID-19, caregivers have been forced to provide more intense, constant care.

“Services are not only scarce, but they are less used – that’s what we’ve noticed in terms of COVID,” Michalska commented. “Caregivers are perhaps reluctant to call to have those personal support workers who were going to help them out.”

Particularly affected are informal caregivers – those taking care of a family member. The strategy notes that unpaid caregivers in the region were facing significant challenges even before the pandemic began. One in three caregivers across Canada reported they were distressed prior to COVID-19.

“The consultations used in the report go back to 2019, so already that distress was identified by the caregivers that we had consulted with throughout our territory,” Michalska noted. “That is really one of the pieces the pandemic has exacerbated.”

The report outlines four major actions which require improvement to help caregivers in the region: Reworking the System Building; Education and Training; Promoting Caregiver Health and Wellness; and Strengthening Circles of Support and Community for Caregivers.

“The recommendations form a workbook and we working with our advisory committees to determine how to address them,” Michalska said, adding the report is just the beginning of a long process to improve the support system for caregivers – particularly those who are working with a family member. “Really at the core is recognizing those informal caregivers as key partners in the well-being of seniors.”

“They are an essential pillar of that circle of support.”

The Eastern Ontario Caregiver Strategy can be read here on the United Way Prescott-Russell’s website.