A provincial panel tasked with reviewing Alberta's Seniors Lodge Program will feature representation from a Foothills non-profit.

Westwinds Communities CAO Lauren Ingalls is one of 11 panel members appointed by Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services, Jason Nixon.

Those interested in participating in the panel submitted their names in the fall and were approached to confirm their participation in January.

"I felt, given the depth of experience I have within the sector, I've worked within the Seniors Lodge Program for over 30 years, I felt I could not only represent a rural operator but a small urban operator and provide a depth of experience and perspective to the program," says Ingalls.

Westwinds Communities released a public statement calling for a review of the program last year, citing a long list of issues.

It was last reviewed in 2015, with few to none of the recommendations made following the review having been implemented.

Ingalls believes part of what prompted this new review is the public perception of senior housing following the pandemic.

"Arising from the pandemic, I think there was more interest from government in pursuing that on a timely basis given some of the publicity that was associated with the whole continuing care sector, how seniors were isolated during COVID, and current perceptions as a consequence."

Westwinds isn't the only organization calling for a review, with many municipalities also expressing the need for one.

"If we look to the recent Alberta Municipalities convention, there were a number of resolutions tabled regarding housing management bodies, the lodge program, and funding for the program. There is, on a provincial basis, from our urban and rural municipalities, a strong interest in looking at this. That's reflective in the representation on the panel, having representation from each of those organizations and representing municipal membership," says Ingalls.

Both the provincial government and Alberta's municipalities contribute to the program's funding, and two members of the panel are the presidents of Alberta Municipalities and Rural Municipalities Alberta.

Ingalls hopes the review process remains broad in scope, bearing in mind that housing providers and seniors have differing needs across Alberta's many municipalities

"While we haven't participated in orientation to see what the scope of the lodge review includes, I hope there's consideration for not only the operator perspective but client needs and community needs. Coming out of the pandemic, I think there are a lot of concerns with operators provincially. Some are operating really well with full lodges and long waitlists and then we go to the other end of the spectrum in communities with high vacancies and no waitlists."

She also intends to advocate for organizations that, like Westwinds, provide a breadth of services and various kinds of housing.

"Westwinds provides a variety of housing ranging from studios to two-bedroom. The province may, in its review, say 'We're only going to focus on those that are for the more modest income senior and provide funding for the more modest income senior,' which they currently do because we have an income threshold, but they may make it more specific or more particular. There are those of us, particularly in smaller urban centres or rural areas, where we're everything to everyone in town, versus, perhaps, going into a large urban centre where a housing management body may focus exclusively on low-income seniors. Here in the Foothills, we don't want people to leave our local communities, this is where they've lived and worked, this is where their friends, families, and support network are, so we provide a broader range of services where we can. So that might be part of the review, the actual service bundle."

Orientation for the panel members starts this week.