The Time is Now
Although most seniors hope to age at home indefinitely, their complex healthcare needs mean it isn’t always possible. That’s why the recent change in legislation to create Ontario Health Teams (OHTs) is so vitally important, in particular for those of us serving seniors. OHTs will enable healthcare providers to work together with a common goal of meeting the healthcare needs of the aging population; to provide the right services in the most appropriate setting within each community, to implement coordinated solutions, and to create needed capacity for the entire health system.
Long-term care (LTC) is clearly an invaluable and integral part of the healthcare system, providing specialized care, support and quality end-of-life care to more than 115,000 residents and their families across the province annually. Today, more than 90% of LTC residents have some form of cognitive impairment and 86% require extensive help with activities of daily life such as eating or using the washroom – meaning the needs of residents are complex and require 24/7 care. According to the Ontario Long Term Care Association’s “Qindex”, which is a composite of nine metrics measured from 2012 through 2017, all long term care homes are continuously showing significant improvements in the quality of care they deliver.
However, for the 35,000 people waiting an average of five months to access one of Ontario’s LTC beds, and for the 4,200 patients, primarily seniors, in hospital beds waiting for the right level of care and experiencing adverse outcomes and functional decline, we need immediate new solutions.
We must consider longer term policy changes, leveraging the opportunity before us through OHTs, and consider immediate solutions such as:
- Utilizing the 6,000 vacant retirement suites across the province for transitional care as a solution for overcrowded hospitals and to enable better outcomes for seniors. The government signalled in their 2019 budget their intent to create transitional care spaces so that patients can move from hospitals to a more appropriate setting in the community, such as a retirement home. That’s good news for seniors who would be able to receive appropriate care until they are ready to return home or move into the right setting.
- A Senior Services Benefit to give seniors choice and help with transitions. It would be provided to seniors who qualify for existing home and community care services, giving them options to receive their care and support where they choose—including short- or long-term stays in a retirement residence. This would simply mean a reallocation of funding from administrative bodies to the senior.
- Adding new long-term care beds and redeveloping older beds to meet the growing demand across the province. The government’s commitment to add 15,000 new long-term care beds over the next five years, reaffirmed in their April 11 budget announcement, is an important step forward. We must also “future proof” the beds already in service, by accelerating the redevelopment of all 30,000 old B, C and some D class beds and bringing them up to the current standard (most of which require a green field new build). If we don’t, they will become obsolete in just over five years. This large scale development program can only be enabled by important policy changes, including to the current development funding model and approval process.
- Working with government to have LTC designated an affordable housing program, with a cap on municipal development fees to enable the rebuild and construction of beds in the GTA where the demand and cost to build are highest.
- Expanding the current short stay Convalescent Care Program in LTC Homes across Ontario to enable the provision of complex transitional care, rehab, complex medical care, and palliative care.
If we are going to seize the opportunity to transform the way healthcare is provided, we must start now with these important policy changes and investments. To be truly successful over the longer term, the senior living sector should be involved in all OHTs with the goal of better meeting the complex healthcare needs of seniors with solutions that support the capacity and quality needed within each jurisdiction.
About the Author
Lois Cormack, President & Chief Executive Officer, Sienna Senior Living Inc., MHSc., ICD.D / LinkedIn
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