Nanaimo balances aging population by attracting young workers

Census data from 2012 shows Nanaimo's population growing in 50-plus age groups.

Nanaimo planners must strike a balance between providing for the city’s aging population while providing a vibrant city to attract young workers.

Nanaimo’s lifestyle calls to retirees looking for a mild climate, recreation, access to health care and transportation links outside the area.

But to provide those services, Nanaimo’s economy needs young workers start and run those businesses.

“Every community is looking for this demographic,” said Amrit Manhas, business development and research officer for the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation.

Between the 2006 and 2011 census, Nanaimo’s population increased by 5,115. The largest gains were in the age 50 and over categories, accounting for 4,855.

Only two other areas saw increases – 25-34 year olds increased 1,640, while infants to children age four increased by 540.

The remaining categories, including children, teens and 36-49 year olds, all saw decreases.

“It’s really good for us to see that growth there,” Manhas said, referring to the 25-34 year olds. “Everyone is competing for this age growth.”

That growth isn’t coming from a natural increase in the birth rate but rather through immigration.

The corporation works with the provincial government and Vancouver Island University to attract and retain skilled immigrants to the area.

The Provincial Nominee Program fast-tracks the permanent residency application process for skilled and experienced workers, business owners and their families who want to settle in B.C. permanently.

Candidates for that program are often sent to the corporation to learn what opportunities exist in Nanaimo.

“We’re communicating with those business immigrants,” Manhas said. “These are the things we need to continue to do.”

Nanaimo has a gold mine in education and potential at Vancouver Island University and the goal is to offer employment and lifestyle opportunities to make those students stay after graduation.

Real estate is cheaper than other centres on the coast, allowing young families more affordable housing choices. The lifestyle of parks, recreation and high-quality schools speaks for itself.

“If they can find an employment opportunity – or create and employment opportunity – they would like to stay,” Manhas said.

While Nanaimo has the recreation and transportation links to satisfy young demographics, a vibrant nightlife and a city that reflects multiculturalism are areas the corporation identified, through consultation with different economic sectors, to improve.

“That’s what the creative class is looking for,” Manhas said.

For the City of Nanaimo’s parks and recreation department, it’s all about balance as well.

Suzanne Samborksi, senior manager of recreation and culture, said the department aims to make all facilities acessible to any age, rather than create separate parks and pools for each age group.

The wave pool at Nanaimo Aquatic Centre provides fun for children while offering seniors gentle resistance in their aquafit courses. Maffeo Sutton Park offers basketball courts, children’s play area and walking paths for any age.

“We have to have that balance that reaches all taxpayers,” Samborski said.

In the information age, where tele-commuting is common, young, skilled workers can live almost anywhere they choose – making a community’s culture even more important.

“They’re very tech savvy and they can do business from anywhere,” Manhas said.

Where the balance shifts decidedly in favour of aging and elderly people is in the proportion of health-care money spent on their demographic.

“Seniors encompass the vast majority of health-care services,” said Dr. Marilyn Malone, medical director of seniors health. “Those are the people who are taking up health-care dollars.”

Malone, who also heads up the geriatrics research section at the University of British Columbia, said what’s changed is the wrap-around approach to seniors’ health.

Young people usually have one health issue which is dealt with quickly and swiftly within the hospital setting. Seniors, however, often have underlying, chronic illness that takes rebounding from illness like pneumonia significantly longer.

Staff are trained in what Malone calls 48-6 – doctors and nurses assess six basic areas of function, from cognition, mobility, medication, pain, nutrition and hydration, and bowel and bladder function, within the first 48-hours of hospital admission.

Increased physiotherapy and more homestay support allows elderly patients to recover fully and stay out of hospital.

“[Staff] try to create a care plan so they run into fewer problems in a crowded emergency room,” Malone said. “We’re hoping to be better at providing the care that seniors need.”

That also includes more residential care beds to reduce the number of seniors in hospital.

“We’re doing what we can to decrease the number of seniors in acute care waiting for a safe place to live,” Malone said.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com

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