Home Care Ontario Op-Ed - Our ageist health-care system must be reformed

by Home Care Ontario | Dec 13, 2021
Today, CEO Sue VanderBent's Op-Ed was published in the Hamilton Spectator -

Our ageist health-care system must be reformed: 

Dr. Margaret Denton raises many important issues in her Spectator column on ageism (Nov. 25 Dr. Denton article).

As Dr. Denton appropriately points out, “ageism” — the practice of discriminating against people based solely on their age, is a problem in our society today.

From our perspective, the most devastating form of ageism is insidious and entrenched in our health care system: It exists in our current approach to seniors’ care.

By failing to fully fund health care in people’s homes, government ensures that many seniors will be displaced into congregate settings.

For older Ontarians, leaving home is traumatic. We lose connection with our memories and the security that comes with a sense of place.

More often than not, those uprooted seniors will be displaced into an institution such as a nursing home or a long-term care home, where they will ultimately lose their autonomy.

That is not to say long-term care homes are hostile places. To the contrary, there are many organizations across Ontario that are doing great things to improve the quality of life of their residents. They are working hard to make their facilities more homelike, and introducing progressive care like the Butterfly Model, which encourages staff to focus on residents’ need for both physical and emotional well-being.

Try as we might, however, we will never be able to replace home. Home is the place you left.

While long-term care is often required for high acuity needs such as late-stage dementia, many seniors would still rather receive care in their home. We have the power to make that a reality by ensuring home care supports are available. Everyone should be able to have a say about where they live.

If there is any doubt that home is where seniors want to be, let’s erase it.

Home Care Ontario released a poll earlier this fall showing 96 per cent of seniors want to stay in their own home as long as possible.

And yet, on any given week in Ontario, you will hear about government plans to build 30,000 more long-term care beds over the next decade. That same week, the government says nothing about what seniors really want, which is to be well-supported by the health care system while they gradually grow old in their own homes.

A recent study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information revealed that over 10 per cent of seniors admitted to long-term care could have delayed or even avoided admission altogether with appropriate home care support to meet their needs.

To make matters worse, government penalizes the staff who chose to work in home care by paying them less than those who work in institutional settings such as long-term care or hospitals. The resulting inequality has caused an exodus of staff from the home care sector. This is unfair, and results in even fewer opportunities for seniors to act on their real desire to stay in their own homes.

Seniors have told us what they want: the ability to age at home. By not providing investments to make that wish possible, we remove their freedom to choose how and where they want to age.

Our entire system is tilted toward the institutionalization of the elderly.

And that is ageism.

Sue VanderBent is CEO of Home Care Ontario, a Hamilton-based provincial association whose members provide health care services in the homes of nearly one million families each year.

To view the article online, click here.

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