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Seniors minister visits region, says 'social isolation is worst enemy'

'I take my job very seriously,' says Raymond Cho who visited local seniors' home with Jill Dunlop; He says 'seniors are very, very important'
dunlop and chow at midland seniors home
Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, left, and Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho and Askennonia Senior Centre executive director Judy Contin are pictured at the Midland facility Friday. Andrew Philips/OrilliaMatters

For Raymond Cho, it’s an essential part of the job.

The province’s seniors and accessibility minister said during a stop in Midland Friday with Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop it’s important that he gets out and really sees what those falling under his ministry’s auspices are experiencing.

“If I sit there at Queen’s Park I really don’t get the first-hand information of how seniors are doing,” Cho said between visits to a Midland seniors’ activity centre and a retirement residence.

A social worker by trade, the octogenarian MPP has already visited many areas of the province since being elected with more trips planned in the upcoming months.

“Social work is a helping profession and I go and meet the people as a social worker,” he said, noting his Progressive Conservative government is doing everything it can to make the province more senior-friendly after what he sees as neglect by the previous regime.

“Seniors are very, very important. We’re not just saying it verbally, we’re practising that.”

As an example, Cho pointed to the recent provincial budget that allocated as much as $90 million annually to offer free dental care for low-income seniors. Anyone 65 and over in the province making under $19,300 — or $32,300 for couples — qualifies for the program that Cho said saves money in the long run.

“If you don’t treat the dental in time, many seniors will visit the emergency department,” he said. “This cuts down on unnecessary hospital visits.”

As well, Cho emphasized the importance of funding seniors’ activity centres by contributing 80% of the facilities’ operating budgets with the balance covered by the communities they serve.

“Social isolation is the worst enemy and that’s why we’re supporting 300 senior activity centres, such as this one, all across Ontario,” he said.

“It really pays off. When they stay (at home) in the community, we’re reducing seniors going to hospital and long-term-care. It saves millions and millions of dollars.”

Cho also said the province recognizes the importance of helping the nearly 43% of seniors living with a disability, which led to the decision to partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation to launch the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program to help those seniors out.

With a $1.3 million investment over two years, the program will prepare accessibility assessments of businesses and public buildings and determine ways to remove any barriers for people with visible and invisible disabilities.

“I take this job as a mission,” Cho said. “I’m a missionary. When you’re a missionary you have no choice, you have to do your mission. I take my job very seriously.”

Dunlop said it’s essential that seniors benefit from not only receiving proper care, but also by remaining active.

“We have a lot of seniors in this area,” she said, pointing out that demographic is not expected to change. “A lot of people have retired to this area and have brought their parents with them.”