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André VautourProfile: Margaret Gillis

Respecting seniors: Margaret Gillis sees a bright future for them

Margaret Gillis has made Canada a friendlier place for seniors.

She worked as Director of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Division of Aging and Seniors. As Canada’s older population grows larger and larger, Margaret’s work has taken on a new importance.

“I have a really keen interest in health care,” says Margaret. “Although I worked in a variety of places, I always wanted to work on health.”

Cities that age well

One of Margaret’s most significant initiatives to date was the Global Age-Friendly Cities project. It was a world-wide effort organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) with funding and in-kind support by PHAC to improve the quality of life of seniors in urban areas by creating a comprehensive guide for cities. Four Canadian cities participated.

“We thought this project was a great idea,” says Margaret. “We thought it reflected the work we were doing at the Agency.”

(WHO) spoke to older people directly around the world. We asked them how they can age safely in their cities. We tried to look for common issues that we heard from seniors across the world.”

“In Canada,” says Margaret, “we partnered with the provinces to ask the same questions in a number of Canadian cities.”

The Global Age-Friendly Cities project had many different aims, including improving health services, improving accessibility to public buildings and promoting respect for the autonomy of seniors.

WHO used the data collected to create a special, user-friendly guide for cities. “The guide covers a range of things, such as how bus drivers can assist older people on and off buses to ensure their safety,” says Margaret. “Any city in the world can use it.”

Preparing for the worst scenario

Canada also leads the world in emergency preparedness for seniors, again thanks to Margaret and her former division. She, with an international team, helped to develop awareness and innovative policy directions in emergency preparedness.

“We were noticing trends,” recalls Margaret. “Older people were being disproportionately affected by emergencies. The first evidence came from 9/11.”

“There were a lot of programs for children but very few programs for older people. They often face similar challenges.”

“It covers a range
of things, such as bus
drivers ensuring the
safety of older people.”

“We wanted,” says Margaret, “to engage the emergency people vis-à-vis seniors, but also to engage older people who could assist us. Seniors have an awful lot to contribute.”

In 2006, Margaret accepted an award from Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of Canada’s outstanding efforts on emergency preparedness and seniors’ issues.

Safety closer to home

Margaret’s division chalked up another success with the publication of a booklet for seniors called Safe Living Guide: A Guide to Home Safety for Seniors. Simple but informative, it offers tips on maintaining health, keeping track of medication, and adapting a home to the special needs of seniors.

It took a silver prize out of 1,200 entries in a contest in Canada and the United States.

Reflecting on her career in the Public Service, Margaret says she enjoyed working on health issues in Canada immensely.

“I absolutely loved it,” she says. “It was a real pleasure; it was a wonderful team.”

“All in all, it was just a dynamite experience.”

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