A program for seniors who need special care may get really rolling with Covid19 restrictions being eased.

By Pepper Parr

March 7th, 2022


A program for seniors who need special care may get really rolling with Covid19 restrictions being eased.

You know him as the Council member for ward 5; the without a doubt, smartest member of Council – with ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns a very close second smartest council member.

Councillor Sharman has held two public sessions with Senior’s as part of his effort to understand their needs and develop policy that Council can put in place to serve this vital community. At most of the sessions Sharman’s Dad is often in the audience.

Sharman has always had a soft spot for the seniors, it is a sector to which he pays close attention.

During a conversation over what he was going to do next Paul Sharman would not say he was going to run again nor would he offer as much as a hint about possibly challenging to the sitting Mayor come October.

Paul Sharman wanted to talk about PACE, a project on which he has done some work in the past and very much wants to do more on in the future ; he made it clear to me that he was talking about near future.

Last November he explained what PACE (Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) was about to a small group of seniors at the Wellington Tower in downtown Burlington.

Paul’s story was a very personal that resonated with his audience. He first learned about it during a conference he was attending in Detroit. Sharman was invited to visit a charitable organization that created an interesting program.  He and Rick Goldring, Burlington mayor at the time, went down and visited Presbyterian Villages and United Methodist Retirement Communities, that provided thousands of income-geared condo-style homes that were rented to people on limited incomes.

On the ground floor of all of this was a program called PACE. Other communities were served by standalone PACE centres.

The focus was on keeping older adults in their homes longer; Sharman wanted something like this in Burlington and was able to launch a first effort in January 2020 to provide comprehensive care for older adults as an alternative to long-term care facilities.

Paul Sharman’s quest to bring better care to seniors is a very personal story.  It began when his mother had to be moved to a long-term care (LTC) facility from a retirement home after apparently “assaulting” another community member while in distress. His mother was deemed violent even though she was frail.

An Earth Day event, where the lights were turned off for an hour, spooked Sharman’s mother, who was suffering from dementia, resulting in her pushing away the other community member when they approached her.

This unnamed LTC facility also had locked wards for residents who were considered “violent,” where younger residents with mental health and other issues were also located and would allegedly assault other residents.

Paul Sharman with members of his family at a community event.

After much advocacy by Sharman’s sister, their mother was eventually moved out of the locked ward to one mostly occupied by residents who had suffered from strokes. Eventually, she developed pneumonia, was unable to swallow antibiotics, and was then moved to a hospital. By then, her options were limited and she passed away in early 2015.

Paul Sharman: When he puts his mind to an issue he looks for the data and lets that lead him to the decision he makes.

“Long-term care is necessary but insufficient,” said Sharman. Sharman believes that things could have been better for his mother had there been more support services available in the community. His mother inspired him to look for ways to develop support groups for older adults so they could stay in their homes as long as possible and therefore have a better quality of life.

He and others got as far as setting up a non-profit organization that practices in condo towers and other places of congregate living.

The local Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) was very engaged and interested and wanted to give them access to their services kit, meaning they would organize services for those people who needed help at home.

Healthcare system restructuring meant that CCACs were disbanded, which meant those services still existed operating under a different name, the future became unclear without the CCAC, and the program was suspended.

On the way back from Detroit, Goldring and Sharman talked about how the Presbyterian and United Methodist villages were able to pull together so many housing units with limited resources and what exactly made it work.

To help them think it through, Dr. Jennifer Mendez, a Toronto-based professor who taught geriatric care to medical students at Wayne State University in Detroit and an advisor to PACE in Detroit, was brought in to provide support for the Burlington project.  Mendez, now retired, has been involved with the American iteration for more than 25 years, first starting in Milwaukee.  Mendez says collaboration between all of the service providers is essential for the success of the program.

JBH president Eric Vandewall manages well and gets the job done.  The biggest problem he faces is a cultural one.  The problem existed long before Vandewall arrived.

Sharman’s team then presented the idea to a special meeting of 80 Burlington community leaders, including Eric Vandewall, President and CEO of Joseph Brant Hospital, and Dr. Michael Shih of Emshih Developments, who specializes in the development of medical buildings and retirement homes.

When the presentation was over, Sharman asked the assembled leaders if anyone could think of any reason not to pursue this program going forward. The room was silent. People then asked what would be done next.

This resulted in Sharman and Goldring setting up committees to discuss how PACE might be established in Burlington. Vandewall and Shih were brought on to the volunteer committee and after about eight or nine months of talking it through, the program was moved into the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), as they had all the resources and connections necessary for it to work, coupled with Halton Community Housing, which owns and operates large housing properties for older adults.

Residents over 80 years of age in 2016 census it was 5.7% in Burlington and 9.2% over 75. The 2021 census has not provided Burlington yet, but Ontario is 4.6% over 80 and 7.8% over 75.

“I think this is the population that requires the most attention,” said Shih. “Social isolation is a problem.”  “Also because of the seniors living much longer now, in terms of care and [their] financial situation, everything needs more attention,” he added.

A solid strategic thinker who wonders just where the vision for the city is hiding.

Unfortunately, just after the pilot program launched last January, PACE couldn’t offer new services or group programs due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the organizations that were already working with residents were able to continue doing so.

The pandemic shed an extremely negative light on long-term care in the province, giving PACE a chance to stand out and continue to grow.

And with the help of vaccines, the program has been back up and running for about six months and has been granted approval from the Burlington Ontario Health Team (OHT), operating out of Joseph Brant Hospital, to scale up and continue its work.

Halton Community Housing has also committed $1 million for renovations on the ground floor of Wellington Terrace to better house PACE and its programs.

There is a lot more to this story.  The big question is: can Paul Sharman get PACE off the ground and be Mayor at the same time?


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7 comments to A program for seniors who need special care may get really rolling with Covid19 restrictions being eased.

  • Peter Rusin

    The folks who are nasty critics should put their names out for public service. Sharman is leading an initiative that the ministry of health should already be heading up, and if not, then he raises a need that justifies we have a mix of privately managed health care options. The level and degree of constant whining and complaining is unbelievable. Give Sharman some credit, at least he cares about others and not just himself.

  • Diane Knox

    Senior Halton Residents are the Founding Taxpayers of this town now City. The many still living, paying taxes Independently, with families in distant places and dreading LTC etc,, Face a constant struggle:
    to access info in a Tech info dependent World,
    to navigate the ever changing ‘help’ alphabet now- LHIN,
    to even have a Taxi Service interrupted- now resolved.
    to lose their Networking at the Seniors Centre because of Covid and caste adrift from their Social, Activity, Health, exercise, Learning and Information. Not All get the Post and many cannot access this and web etc.

    Paul Sharman is to be applauded for focusing and highlighting this Critical need and project PACE and for engaging Key Health people etc. in this dialogue.
    Perhaps, It comes from his Personal Life, but that is how many come to know “We are not Forever Young”. I wish him and this group well In this Provincial, City challenge for this ever increasing demographic.
    ,All the Candidates in our next two LOCAL elections- MPP-Ontario, City Mayor & Council might like to remember this population that still votes and would like to Hear from you.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Attempting to rank City councilors according to the criterion of “smart” is not a particularly useful exercise. Intelligence and wisdom are not necessarily equivalent and the job requires both.

    Re: councilor Sharman as a candidate for mayor…. did he win a majority in his own ward in the last election?

  • Carol Victor

    Near and dear to the heart of the oldest councillor…smartest????
    Great to see attention being paid to this ever increasing demographic especially in Burlington.where massive high rise non- affordable development is growing at an exponentially rapid ” pace”.

  • Carol Victor

    Near and dear to the heart of the oldest councillor….smartest????
    Great however to see attenntion being paid to this ever increasing demographic, especially in Burlington where massive non-affordable housing is increasing at a rapid “pace”.

  • Cathy Lanc

    Super interesting info about PACE.
    The initial story about Paul’s mother is misleading, for sure. People with level 3 cognitive impairment do unfortunately need to be cared for in LTC. The memory care floor of an LTC is “locked” to prevent residents wandering away. A frail person, in a scary situation, can definitely have enough strength to hurt another. It is doubtful that one incident would create this transition to memory care.

  • Cathy Lanc

    It might be time to rethink your”smartness” scale. Paul Sharman has certainly risen in my opinion- although his behaviour and his teams behaviours appalling at our Meet the Candidate debates. Lisa and Marianne in their assigned roles, have been huge disappointments. Won’t be voting for them next time.