More investment into home care sector needed says Home Care Ontario CEO

by Home Care Ontario | Mar 06, 2018

From the by Matt Durnan

Read the article on-line HERE

More investment into home care sector needed says Home Care Ontario CEO

Ontario is teetering dangerously close to a tipping point when it comes to overcrowding at hospitals, and more investment into home care could help stem the tide.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath has been calling on the Liberal government to take action to address issues with overcrowding at the province's hospitals and to put a stop to what is being called "hallway medicine".

Sudbury's Health Sciences North has been operating at or over 100 per cent capacity for the past year, despite managing to trim their number of ALC (alternative level care) patients down to below their target of 75.

The number of ALC patients plays a significant role in the hospital's overall occupancy rate, and when HSN's number of ALC patients jumped up as high as 105 a year ago, the hospital was sitting near 113 per cent occupancy.

In the cases of these ALC patients, they are not in need of acute care and many are waiting to either be well enough to return home, or be transitioned into a long-term care facility.

As with a number of different arms of the health care system, Ontario's home care services are feeling a crunch, and more investment into the home care system could significantly lighten the burden being felt by Ontario's hospitals.

"Home care in Ontario gets five per cent of the province's health care budget. That number hasn't changed in 20 years," said Sue VanderBent, CEO Home Care Ontario.

"We're seeing a rising number of people in need of care as the population gets older and these people want to stay at home and get care at home and die in their homes if that's possible for them."

VanderBent says that the growth in the elderly population is outpacing the amount of care workers available and that this is something that isn't going away any time soon.

"In 15 to 20 years, one in four Canadaians will be 65-years-old or older," said VanderBent. "Ontario makes up 40 per cent of the country's population. We've known this has been coming for some time now and we're looking for more investment into home care."

Last October, the province announced that they would be providing funding for an additional 2,000 hospital beds across the province, with the Northeast LHIN slated to receive funds for 50 beds, 16 of which would be designated to Health Sciences North. 

In February of 2017, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) said that the province should fully fund 40 new, permanent beds at Health Sciences North, in an effort to reduce crowding. An additional 40 beds would bring the number of beds to nearly 500.

OCHU says the data shows Ontario has the fewest hospital beds of any province and the fewest staff for those beds. In less than two decades Ontario has cut more than 18,000 hospital beds, the council argues, which has led to "overcapacity for long periods of time with ad hoc patient beds being put in tub rooms, solariums and emergency department hallways."

While adding more beds to hospitals around the province will make occupancy numbers look better on paper, VanderBent says that it's more of a band-aid solution that doesn't look at transitioning patients into the proper type of care that they require.

"The longer you hospitalize an elderly person, the more deteriorated they become physically and mentally and then what happens is people often deteriorate to long-term care levels," said VanderBent. 

"So the person who goes in three weeks beforehand and is functioning at home suddenly is starting to show signs of disorientation and incontinence and actually needs long-term care so it's an even longer wait to get them into a long-term care bed."

A more robust home care system will help ease the stress on hospitals on both ends, as more home care workers and services can reduce the number of hospital visits, as well as provide easier transitions for patients being discharged from Ontario hospitals.

"The problem here is that obviously the province is starting to say to hospitals that they're going to open up more beds and build more long-term care beds, and my message is, given this demographic and the rate of senior growth we're going to see, we will not be able to build enough beds to keep up with this demand," said VanderBent.

"We have to start thinking differently about creating a robust home and community care system in this age-friendly society that we keep talking about but never actually do. If all we do to respond to this is start building more beds, it's going to be an epic failure."

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