National senior strategy needed to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians

By Dr. Laurent Marcoux

Healthcare in Canada has been a tremendous contributor to the success of our nation. From the people working in it and the research conducted within it to the medical advances coming at a pace like we’ve never seen before. This has combined to help Canadians live longer and healthier lives.

But – and there is always a ‘but’ isn’t there? We all know that our healthcare system is currently in a fragile state. While we celebrate living longer than ever, we must also recognize that our system is not well equipped to manage our aging population with its more complex and chronic diseases.  How should our system operate to offer more efficiency, effectiveness and social equity?

Our system was built 50 years ago with a focus on an acute care delivery. Fast forward to today and we see that the system’s failure to evolve has become a major barrier to social equity in health care delivery, not to mention a serious cause of lengthy wait times. All too frequently patients languish in hospital when they could be getting more appropriate, high-quality care elsewhere. Investments in residential care infrastructure and continuing care will improve care for seniors while significantly reducing surgical and emergency department wait times, benefiting all patients.

The CMA believes the ability of our country to meet the health care needs of seniors is not only necessary, it is also achievable. What is required is a strategic approach – a national strategy for senior care. Creating such a strategy would also help build on the tremendous success stories that already exist across Canada:

  • The Acute Care for Elders Collaborative is a partnership between the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement and the Canadian Frailty Network where as improvement teams across the country accepted into the collaborative receive funding, coaching, education material and tools to support the adaptation of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital’s Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Strategy. The initiative has enabled teams to become experts in healthcare practices benefitting older patients in the communities where they reside, improving patients’ experience of care, coordination of care and system outcomes. (
  • The Nova Scotia Health Authority Care by Design Program provides residents of long term care facilities access to high quality and consistent primary health care. The goal? Provide high quality of life to the most frail seniors and appropriate health care approach to meet their needs by teaming up family physicians with families and members of an interdisciplinary team to a single floor of a long term care home to deliver the best care.
  • Northwest Territories Aven Cottages is an initiative funded by the Government of the NWT and the Department of Health Social Services. The facility dedicated to helping seniors dealing with Alzheimer’s and related dementia consists of two cottages, each having 14 private rooms situated around a central core with a dining room, kitchen and living room area.

These examples show the way forward. They show that we can offer the right type of care the patients need. Imagine if we applied these and the countless other examples that exist across Canada to drive systemic change at the national level? We could reduce the acute care burden and deliver timely access to the highest quality care for our seniors – and for all Canadians.

At the CMA, we have been vocal about the need to have a national vision on seniors care. We believe that addressing this issue would go a long way in helping stabilize our health care system. This is why in 2015 we launched our award-winning patient engagement platform – Since then more than 51,000 Canadians have joined the movement to press the federal government to create a national strategy on seniors care.

This fall, we submitted five recommendations to the government in its pre-budget consultation. From targeted funding to support development of a pan-Canadian strategy to capital investments in residential care infrastructure, our recommendations aim to build a roadmap for the health care system of the future. The time is now to act and enable the changes that will help build an efficient, effective and equitable health care system that will address the needs of our seniors and- ultimately – all Canadians.

Dr. Laurent Marcoux is President of The Canadian Medical Association.