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Friday, October 9, 2015

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Seniors agency plans for new challenges

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Circle of Care CEO and president Michael Scheinert and vice-president of communications and development Lisa Levin. [Michelle Bitran photo]

TORONTO — The first of the baby boomers turned 65 last year. This marks the beginning of a huge population shift in Canada, with the number of seniors expected to nearly double over the next 25 years, according to Statistics Canada.

For the first time ever, seniors in the country are expected to outnumber children, and health and community services for seniors have to be prepared to cope with additional clients.

Circle of Care, a non-profit community health-care organization dedicated to senior citizens, is ready for the challenge.

“Circle of Care… provides a smorgasbord, a full range, of community services that cover social, health and community service needs,” said Michael Scheinert, one of the founders, and now the president and CEO of the organization.

Circle of Care offers a wide range of services, including providing personal support workers to help the elderly with household duties and personal care, drivers to take them to appointments or social outings, a day centre with activities for those with Alzheimer’s or cognitive impairment, phone pals for isolated seniors and kosher meals delivered to the home. The organization’s mission is to help older people maintain independence and live comfortably and happily in their homes.

Circle of Care was established in 1974 under the auspices of the Toronto Jewish Welfare Fund, which is now the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. It began as an organization designed specifically to assist the elderly Jewish community in the city, but quickly expanded its mandate to serve elderly people of all backgrounds.

 “Our core community that we are connected to both historically and culturally is the Jewish community,” said Scheinert, adding that now Circle of Care has staff that speak multiple languages, including Russian, Hebrew, Spanish and Mandarin, to better serve Toronto’s diverse population.

In the last year, Circle of Care has assisted some 450 Holocaust survivors. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany helps fund Circle of Care services for survivors.

This year, in order to deal with growing demand, Circle of Care, which employs more than 525 staff and serves about 6,000 clients, moved into a large, modern office.

The new Yonge Street and York Mills Road location accommodates the staff on a single floor, in contrast to the previous location on Wilson Avenue, where the organization had three floors. Scheinert explained that the change allows employees to work more collaboratively.

Lisa Levin, Circle of Care’s vice-president of communications and development, added that the collaborative model has also been carried through in the organization’s operation. While in the past, people would phone in to separate departments to request either home-care services, meals on wheels or transportation, they now call a central phone number at which a staff member can inform them of the options available to them and help assess their needs. “If they need one [service], they often need another,” Levin explained.

Circle of Care is planning to add a satellite office at the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan, Ont., in December to have better access to the growing senior community north of Toronto.

“The bottom line is you need to increase services,” Levin said. In the last year alone, Circle of Care has seen a lot of growth in demand for their services: an 11 per cent growth in transportation services, nine per cent for meals on wheels, 14 per cent in home services and a three per cent growth in services for Holocaust survivors.

According to Arnold Foss, who works primarily with the survivors, the survivor population requiring services is increasing.  “Those who were child survivors are beginning to age,” he said.

For Scheinert and the Circle of Care team, being able to help seniors live well at home is of utmost importance.  “The majority of older people can function at home provided they have the supports they need,” he said.

He believes that Circle of Care’s employees and many services are well prepared for the growing senior population. “We’re very fortunate in putting all of those pieces together to give us [the organization] we have today.”

For more information about Circle of Care, call 416-635-2860 and/or visit


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