On 29 October, the Russia Is a Caring Nation Forum hosted the 7th Society for All Ages National Conference. Because of the coronavirus lockdown, the event was held online for the first time, bringing in a record-high number of participants – the conference webcast was viewed live 3400 times.
The conference was attended by physicians, scientists, social workers, public figures and representatives from the authorities and non-profits. In her welcome address, Olga Tkacheva, head of RGNKTs [Russian Geriatric Research and Treatment Centre (RGRTC)], highlighted the importance of interagency coordination between the public healthcare and social systems. “Population ageing is not a problem but our achievement, which can evolve only because of the fact that we are together,” she added.
The government must set parameters, allocate funding and create conditions for implementing social policies, whereas the role of NGOs and non-profits is to advise, direct and suggest solutions; this is the opinion expressed by Dmitry Morozov, chair of the State Duma’s healthcare committee.
Yevgeny Kamkin, a deputy health minister, said that the entire public health system needed a timely overhaul if we were to achieve the strategic objective of raising the life expectancy to 78 years by 2030. “We have been given an ambitious but doable task,” said Kamkin.
According to Olga Batalina, a deputy minister of labour and social security, support for and protection of older people became a top priority during the coronavirus pandemic — by way of assistance to employable people over 65, measures were put in place to enable them to receive social services and benefits without leaving their homes or exposing themselves to any additional risk. “The year 2020 became a trial by fire for the public health systems and social services. Drawing on the experience gained and lessons learned, we must be more active in resuming the implementation of our plans aimed at ensuring the well-being of Russian citizens”, added Elena Bibikova, a member of the Federation Council.
In speaking at the section focused on healthy ageing and active senior lifestyle, Melita Vujnović, the WHO’s envoy to Russia, said that the European population was ageing fast and that the fight against dementia was emerging as a priority. According to her, it is important to not only create a congenial environment for older people so that they can stay healthy and on their own for longer and keep an active lifestyle, but also to set up coordination between all stakeholders in the care system, including the elderly themselves. The municipal authorities often put up resistance, not realizing what an economic boon the concept of active senior lifestyle would be. A hostile environment is conducive to a higher incidence of injury in seniors. The burden of subsequent treatment and care falls on the shoulders of family members, who are forced to take time off work, claim sick days and spend money taking care of their relatives, and on the government, in the form of direct costs of public health service. The costs of treatment are well in excess of the costs of improving the environment. By investing into a comfortable environment for the senior citizenry, we lay the groundwork for global well-being, added Vujnović.
Lilia Ovcharova, a deputy rector, VShE [Higher School of Economics (HSE)] NIU [academic research establishment (ARE)], compared the hike in the retirement age to a divorce, which can certainly be an emotionally charged event, but does not always lead to adverse consequences. Active involvement of seniors in social life leads to a longer and better life and is of major importance for the social systems and the economy; such reforms, however, must take place gradually and include preparing people for the changes. According to her, milestones on the way to an active senior lifestyle can include support for mental health, expansion of coverage under the OMS [compulsory medical insurance (CMI)] policy, further education for older people, development of social ties and digital training.
According to Anastasia Lazibnaya, the founder of the Baba-Deda.ru federal portal for the elderly, once they retire, people drop out from the social scene, and it would do them good to take up an activity involving handcraft, yet programmes to support such endeavours must be honest and disclose the risks to the people.
The best practices of the Help Is at Hand non-profit coalition were reviewed at the section called “Civic solidarity and the lessons of the pandemic”. Tatiana Akimova, head of the Third Age alliance, which joined forces with the Timchenko Foundation in initiating a concerted effort to help the older generation, said that the coalition members had helped 81500 elderly people and identified 4000 seniors living alone who needed help but were not on the radar of social services. The coalition’s activities made it possible to see that people were of the same mind and ready to join forces in order to help seniors, and the non-profit sector can be relied on in a crisis. The coalition’s cause was taken up not only by the organizations that were in the business of providing elderly care but also by local councils, capable of marshalling neighbourhood communities to locate “invisible” seniors who also needed support.
“We can see that the coalition’s resource centres and non-profits play the part of the process drivers that can bring everybody on board, set up coordination and create a system of multi-faceted assistance focused on the senior citizen. Yet the non-profits should be able on their own to raise funds, secure backing from major foundations and learn new skills – without professional growth, we will not do so well”, said Akimova.
The activities of the territorial resource centre in Moscow were described by Vladimir Khromov, head of SVOD Association. During the pandemic, the organization set up volunteer assistance to the elderly and continues to take care of its charges. He highlighted the flexibility of volunteer support system. For example, the organization’s volunteers recently helped a woman who was losing her eyesight to copy out information that was important to her in a larger font. Such work is not part of the job description of a social worker, but it affects the quality of life of an elderly person. Vladimir Khromov also said that a systematic way to improve the quality of senior life is based on cooperation and mutual complementation of all stakeholders in the community care system. “Note that the coalition has set up a communication platform between non-profits from different regions, and we can not only learn about the experiences of our colleagues but also form a knowledge base. It is useful to have access to training and expert advice”.
The best practices of local councils (LC) were presented by Irina Kondrashkina, deputy chair of Vysota LC from Volgograd. She said that neighbourly help is the fastest: “The government needs time to set up a mechanism; even children and grandchildren were not close enough and could not help their near and dear ones. But neighbours are next door and don’t ask for paperwork; they know first-hand who needs what”. According to her, the locals made little, if any, use of the We Stand Together hotline because help was available from neighbours. The resource centre brought in other LCs from across the region and non-profits.
The third section focused on the development of the long-term care system and the outlook for interagency coordination. Based on the results of a pilot LTCS project, the system was modified: specifically, starting 2021, the service package will be determined not at the discretion of the service recipient but using a scientific method, which will take into account the condition and real needs of the person based on his situation. A basic package of essential services will be provided free of charge; additional services will be offered at a charge. The system will also be adjusting the scope of services rendered based on the changes in the person’s situation. According to Aleksandr Shkrebelo, executive director of the Association of Long-Term Care System professionals, effective interagency coordination will facilitate the growth of the healthcare and social service systems, and we will help make life better for the elderly.
The Society for All Ages National Conference was initiated by the Charitable Foundation of Elena and Gennady Timchenko to facilitate improvements in the elderly living standards in Russia. The event is a major forum on population ageing and support for senior citizens. The conference has been held every year since 2013.
Presentations by speakers
Jerzy Bohdanowicz and Olga Voron, “Healthy ageing and an active senior lifestyle are the be-all and end-all of the government’s modern social policies towards senior citizens. Germany’s best practice”
Aleksandr Sidorenko, “Active senior lifestyle during COVID-19? European approaches”
Aleksandr Shkrebelo, “The RF Long-Term Care System. On the standard LTCS model in place”
Aleksandr Rozanov, “Long-term care system: the medical component”
Tatiana Akimova, “Civic unity and the aged: the lessons of the pandemic”
Irina Kondrashina, “Pandemic: best practices in elderly care through local councils”
Leonid Kolton, “Best practices of Hesed Abraham”