Services to the elderly

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Wednesday September 21 2016


Along with other major advanced economies, Canada’s population will age in the years to come. By 2030, Statistics Canada points out that almost a quarter of the population will be over age 65, compared with 15.3% in 2013.[1] Throughout the decades to come what might be termed “older seniors”, the population of those aged 80 and above, will explode to reach nearly 5 million by 2063, compared to only 1.4 million in 2013.[2]

As the population ages, the profile of senior is likely to alter: today’s and future seniors are likely to want to remain in their own home as long as possible, and  they also are likely to have had fewer children than previous generations of seniors. Fewer children may also be less able to care for aging parents than previous generations were due to a variety of changing conditions.

This rapid aging will likely place public and private seniors residences and long term care under exacerbated strain.  

In support of efforts to help seniors stay in their own homes longer, CUPW believes that Canada Post can leverage its expansive, personal network of about 26,500 letter carriers and RSMCs to provide services to seniors.  

Currently, letter carriers keep an eye on the vulnerable through leveraging their knowledge of their customer base. In most cases, it is informal: carriers tend to know who their customers are. Knowing that someone is alone, they will, for instance, knock on someone’s front door if the mail hasn’t been picked up for a number of days.

But in at least one community, through a partnership with community organizations, the Letter Carrier Alert program is still functional. Started in the 1980s by the (now merged into CUPW) Letter Carriers Union of Canada (LCUC) in collaboration with the Canadian Labour Congress and the United Way of Canada, the aim of the program was to identify seniors or others in need of assistance in the home.[3]

In the United States, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC, the union representing letter carriers) and the United States Postal Service (USPS) cooperate on the Carrier Alert program. The letter carrier keeps an eye for issues with pre-registered customers, and if she notices something, reports this to a local community sponsoring organization.

Some post offices are taking this role a few steps further.  Many countries (see appendix B for a list of countries and initiatives which CUPW has located) have begun to implement various forms of senior check-in visits. Though all unique in service details, these initiatives tend to go further than merely “keeping an eye” out for warning signs on the route, and engage in the active contacting of the individuals in order to verify the individual’s well-being. Broadly, these various initiatives appear to share three aims:

  1. They support aging populations to remain in their home through basic contact with the letter carrier and are designed as a detection tool to identify if problems are emerging;
  2. They allow for the optimization of social services – by having letter carriers play a supporting or “first step” type role for service providers who are the ones providing specialised services;
  3. They create a new revenue stream for postal operators at a time of falling letter mail volumes;

Particularly noteworthy is the Cohesio service offered by La Poste. This service makes use of the versatile smart phone which every French letter carrier now carries.  Once someone is signed up for a check-in service, the letter carrier (during their daily round) uses the smartphone to pass through, with the individual concerned, a series of “yes/no” self-assessment type questions on the person’s state. The letter carrier inputs the results, which are then sent to the ordering party though the internet when the carrier returns to their depot. Questions are established by the ordering party, with the letter carrier simply serving as the intermediary between two individuals. They are not responsible for health care provision or conducting any sort of needs assessment – however, they do have an emergency contact listed in their smartphone for each recipient.  

La Poste offers this contract through partnerships with pension authorities, and can modify this contract to other entities requiring individualised visits to the public.  

CUPW understands that the Belgian Post (BPost) has a similar initiative underway in various municipalities in the Flemish Region, known as bclose. First launched in Ostend, the municipality and post partnered to administer a survey to elderly residents in order to gauge their well-being and need (as applicable) for follow-ups from relevant social services.

Canada Post could develop such a service, which would enable social service providers to order a weekly or even daily contact with those needing check-ins. Another potential option for the service would be an “individualised” system, where, for example, children who normally visit their elderly parents but are unable to could have the letter carrier check in.

Canada Post is ideally suited to provide such a service as recent research has found that letter carriers are one of the most trusted professions in the country[4].

The Post also has a unique strength to leverage as it is already the trusted, neutral intermediary between two parties conducting a digital transaction.  In the same way that Canada Post is the physical link for delivering digitally ordered parcels, we can also be the physical link in the provision of (increasingly) digital social services. 

Canada Post’s third advantage in providing such services is that it already bundles numerous disparate items and sequences them into a line of delivery and collection. The visit of a senior would be just one more door in a line which includes parcels, mail items and other new services discussed in this submission. CPC’s expertise in bundling is a key strength because a senior needing a check-in is also very likely to require other home services. The letter carrier could also, while checking on a senior, deliver specialised telemedicine items, groceries, medication as well as parcels and mail.

Post Nord (Denmark) is pursuing telemedicine services, with a view to the letter carrier bundling multiple social services into one visit.


A new source of revenue for posts:

While the social advantage of such services is clear, it should also be noted that other posts see the potential of such services to generate new lines of revenue in a context of falling letter volumes.

La Poste earned approximately €19 million in revenue from a plethora of new services, including cohesio, in fiscal 2015, and estimated that it would conduct between 5 and 7 million new service visits. It expects to raise this total revenue to €200 million of annual revenue by 2020.

A 2015 paper by the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the USPS could earn $123 million in revenue and $27 million in profits from various seniors’ services.[5]

For example, the paper notes that Japan Post has a service called “Watch Over” that checks on seniors and reports back to family members for a small monthly fee.  This service costs the equivalent of about $8.40 US per month. According to the OIG, a similar service in the US would generate $12.6 million in revenues annually if just one per cent of its 12.5 million older adults that live alone signed up.

While the figures in the above represent a small percentage in total revenues of either post office, they nonetheless are figures which are financially material.


Recommendation: That Canada Post identify a community, extensively consult with seniors, health and social services providers to design and test new services to be offered by letter carriers, with a specific focus on  check-in services for seniors and the disabled.

Recommendation: That Canada Post, at a national and community level, conduct ongoing joint research with CUPW into the effects of an aging society and what other opportunities for new lines of business this could represent.

[1] “Population projections: Canada, the provinces and territories, 2013 to 2063” Statistics Canada. url: . Last accessed: June 7th 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See appendix A for example of internal LCUC communication from 1982 explaining Letter Carrier Alert.

[4] 87% of Canadians, a 2015 Léger survey found, trust letter carriers. They score better than professions such as airline pilots, dentists or even social workers. See: `Baromètre des professions 2015”, Les Affaires. Last Accessed: May 30th 2015. url: 

[5] See: Office of the Inspector General, United States Postal Service. ”The Postal Service’s role in delivering wellness services and supplies”. 2015. url: Last accessed: May 25th 2016.

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