Deaths highlight need for outreach programs

Penticton man believed to have been dead for six months before his body was discovered

Two tragic deaths of Penticton seniors have highlighted the continuing need of wellness outreach programs in the South Okanagan.

“That is what we are here for,” said Evelyn Blaine, South Okanagan Seniors Wellness Society outreach program co-ordinator. “We are focusing more now on outreach programs than anything. We are here and we want to help, we want to support. If anyone knows of a senior that they feel needs a check-in, please let us know.”

On Aug. 22 Penticton RCMP conducted a well-being check at the residence of Erhard Schmitt at the end of residential street in Penticton. Schmitt was found in a “mummified” state seated on the floor of his bedroom leaning against the side of his bed and the wall. The autopsy could not determine Schmitt’s cause of death, and it was believed he had died some six months earlier.

The coroner’s report noted Schmitt had been a hoarder in a large residence, with best-before food dates in the fridge dating back to 2010. It also stated the man is believed to have died following a discharge from the hospital on Feb. 8 and neighbours thought he still might have been in the hospital.

In 2008, a 71-year-old Penticton man died of starvation in a residential motel. According to the coroner’s report, the emaciated body of William Fuller was found by RCMP and emergency services. It was believed he died two days prior.

The investigator in the coroner’s report wrote that Fuller was known as a recluse and spent most of the time inside his motel residence with very minimal contact within the community. In May 2007, he was seen by a physician with regards to his mental health and apparent emaciated appearance. He continued to live in his reclusive manner until his death. The post-mortem examination revealed a man weighing only 59 pounds, and the cause of his death was attributed to starvation due to self-neglect.

The South Okanagan Seniors Wellness Society, a non-profit group, provides a variety of programs to support seniors with educational services to relieve loneliness, isolation and vulnerability, help support independence and improve their physical and emotional well-being. Blaine said programs such as the Friendly Visitor is one way to ensure a senior is being checked on frequently. Screened volunteers are paired up with a senior in their community and are required to visit that person for at least one hour a week.

Starting Jan. 25, the wellness society, located at 102-301 Main St., will host a monthly interest session from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The interest sessions can accommodate up to 15 people and it is suggested to call ahead and register. The first topic is going to be another new program called Caring Connections to help the public become more aware of seniors they might be interacting with.

“For instance, a hairdresser who has a senior come every week to get their hair done, and all of a sudden they drop off your radar and you might think there is a problem at home. We want to teach people to recognize when seniors are in a vulnerable situation and then make sure they know how and where to report it. The workshops can be done in our office, or say for instance, for tenants at an apartment, or we can go to a place of employment and conduct them,” said Blaine.

The wellness society also is a one-stop shop for information and referral services for seniors such as housing, health crisis supports, transportation, government departments and other topics. Staff and trained volunteers can also provide one-on-one supports for seniors to assist with filling out forms, helping newcomers and assessment of referral needs.

The Senior Wellness Society is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.:  will be closed the last two weeks of December and then reopen Jan. 3rd from Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  For more information, visit www.seniorswellnesssociety.com or phone 250-487-7455 or toll free 1-877-364-2345.

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