Niagara Gatekeepers reaches out to francophones

Niagara Gatekeepers reaches out to francophones

Members of a local retirement home visit Trinity Bellwoods Park for an anti-ageism initiativeFrench-language service for seniors launched

Photo: Celebrating the launch of Niagara Gatekeepers’ French-language service are (back) Entite executive director Sebastien Skrobos; (front, left to right) Annie Boucher, health planner with the French language health planning entity; Muriel Thibault, community representative; Marcel Castonguay, executive director at the centre de santé communautaire Hamilton Niagara; Jack O’Neil, founding member of Niagara Gatekeepers; Susan Decicco, clinical navigator with Hospice Niagara; Jen Butera, Niagara Region outreach services program manager; Delphine Pagotto, Centre de santé communautaire social worker; Bianca Gagnon, health planner with the French language health planning entity; and Jodie Bell, manager, patient care, intake, I/R – Mike Zettel , Niagara This Week

Everyone wants to do the right thing, especially when it comes to helping some of the most vulnerable in our community.

Sometimes, though, the right course of action for doing the right thing is less than clear.

That can be especially true when people encounter a senior who they’re just not sure about. They might not know them all that well, but they see them often enough. And lately something seems a little off.

Who should they call?

Well, since 1997 the answer has been Niagara Gatekeepers. The organization started as a pilot program in Port Colborne which informed seniors of available services and took calls from concerned citizens, offering referrals.

It is now a network co-ordinated by Niagara Region, with a dedicated phone line taking anonymous tips regarding seniors’ safety.

The Niagara Gatekeepers program works to identify isolated or vulnerable seniors in the community who may benefit from support services. The idea is to provide that link before a crisis situation develops.

However, until now, the service was only available in English. That changed at precisely 10:45 a.m. Friday, when the switched was flipped on the Gatekeeper’s French-language service.

Work to bring the service began last winter as Entité, a French-language health planning group, was working on senior isolation.

Entité health planner Annie Boucher said that as soon as they heard about the program, the idea of expanding it to reach the 15,000 francophones who call Niagara home was an obvious one.

How it works is intake calls to Niagara Gatekeepers, 905-684-0968, are done by the local health integration network. And if the call is regarding someone who speaks French or the caller themselves is French, they are connected with Centre de santé communautaire, which is a natural fit as it provides health, social and community services.

Speaking at Friday’s launch, Boucher said the beauty of the service is that people can get the help they need simply by calling one number.

“If you call about a French senior in Niagara, that person will be served in French,” she said.

Jennifer Butera, outreach services program manager for the region, said it can be daunting for people to navigate the system. She said Gatekeepers, which has its roots in the efforts of small group of people, helps people overcome that daunting task.

“It is really a grassroots program that is meant for our community members to use,” she said.

Last year alone, the phone line received 167 calls about seniors in need, meaning 167 seniors were linked to services and supports, something that might not have happened had they not made that call.

As good as any program may be though, it can only be effective if people know about it.

Jack O’Neill, who was one of the founders of Niagara Gatekeepers and is now an ambassador, said the group has worked with people on the frontlines, including first responders and bank tellers, and given them pocket cards to hand out.

“We’ve got to get help to seniors who don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “They don’t know who to turn to.”

Call 905-684-0968 if you know of a senior who may need the help of an agency. The Gatekeeper line is open 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., 365 days a year.

Source: St. Catharines Standard