By Dr. Granger Avery
The care we provide impacts the lives of our patients and their families. It can also increase life expectancy, which stand today at 81 years, almost a full decade higher than it was fifty years ago. Indeed, so many Canadians are living longer today and our nation has more people aged 65 and over than there are under 15. If we are going to build on that success story we must first build a health care system that supports the best health in our older years.
We know all too well how overreliance on hospitals has stretched resources thin and is driving wait times up Emergency departments are stretched to their limits, and hospital beds are too often occupied by patients who would benefit from a different care setting. But with few alternatives, what are Canadians to do?
A patient’s daughter was faced with such a conflict. Her father was hospitalized after a fall broke his hip. While in hospital, he broke his other hip. Without appropriate supports in place at home or an available long-term care bed, his hospital stay was extended until his family secured him a spot in a costly and unnecessary nursing home to wait for the appropriate long-term care bed.
This experience — and too many others like it — demonstrates the gap between the needs of aging Canadians and what our system can provide. As a result, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) launched its Demand a Plan campaign to encourage government, providers and Canadians to rethink how our system should operate to support healthy aging. We have developed recommendations based on extensive review of health outcomes, system and economic performance and real stories from Canadian.
Our priority recommendation calls for capital investments to create more residential care beds in long-term care homes, assisted living units and other innovative residential models. Additionally, we recommend investments to retrofit and renovate existing facilities. This will allow people to get the help they need in the most appropriate manner, creating efficiencies in the system and freeing up overburdened hospital resources to focus on the most complex cases.
Providers will also appreciate our accompanying recommendation for more caregiver support. If we acknowledge that family support is essential to support timely and successful discharge from hospitals, we must ensure that families are supported, too. More than 8 million Canadians provide an estimated 1.5 billion hours of home care — more than 10 times the number of hours worked by paid caregivers. Many spend out of pocket to provide supplementary care, medications, food and transportation. Others lose out on wages taking time away from work. Making the Canada Caregiver Credit refundable would provide much-needed financial support, especially to low-income Canadians.
More than 50,000 Canadians have joined our Demand a Plan call for a national seniors strategy and we need you to keep the momentum building. Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos and MP Marc Serré are keeping healthy aging on parliament’s agenda. Progress is happening, but working in direct hospital care every day, we know more must be done. We must continue to press for change because people need this help today.
Dr. Granger Avery is President of The Canadian Medical Association.