Op-ed: Canada Cares – Putting Seniors Care on the National Agenda

michaelWith an upcoming federal election on October 19th and the planned September 22, 2015 Care to Chat, Michael Kary, Director of Policy and Research, highlights the need for the federal government to work with provinces and territories in improving seniors care in Canada. In particular, it discusses the need for the federal government to work collaboratively with provinces and territories to meet the needs of seniors and an aging population. Along with looking at changes to the health system to better meet challenges such as the chronically ill elderly and improving access, it discusses other areas such as a National Dementia Strategy and health human resources.

Canada Cares: Putting Seniors Care on the National Agenda

As outlined in a May 2015 op-ed from the BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA), it discusses the role of the federal government in working with provinces and territories on senior’s health care. At the May 2015 BCCPA Annual Conference, former PEI premier and previous co-lead for the Premiers Health Care Innovation Working Group, Robert Ghiz, also stressed the need for the federal government to be at the table with provinces to deal with critical issues such as seniors care and the aging population.

While the provinces through the HCIWG have highlighted seniors care as a priority the federal government has been largely silent on the issue and has taken a hands off approach arguing that provinces and territories are primarily responsible for the delivery of health care. Although health, as outlined in section 92 of the Constitution Act, is largely a provincial responsibility, the federal government does still have a role in particular areas including funding, public health, Aboriginal health, research as well as fostering best practices and innovation.

Various organizations across Canada have also advocated that the federal government be more involved in senior’s care including the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) which has been stressing the need for a National Seniors Strategy. In a 2013 CMA survey it found 93% believe Canada needs a national strategy for seniors’ health care at home, hospitals, hospices and long-term homes and 78% believe federal government has an important role in developing such a strategy.[1]

The September 2015 BCCPA Care to Chat entitled Canada Cares: Putting Seniors Care on the National Agenda will be a special edition debate featuring Members of Parliament (MP) and candidates in the upcoming 2015 federal election. The BCCPA has invited several Members of Parliament and/or candidates from the Conservative Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, New Democratic Party of Canada, and the Green Party of Canada to participate in event. These representatives include Hedy Fry, MP (Liberal), Hon. Alice Wong (Conservative), Elizabeth May, MP, (Green) and Jenny Kwan (NDP).

houseofcommons1As part of this panel, the BCCPA hopes to have an open discussion about what role the federal government should have in supporting the continuing care sector or more broadly seniors care.  Furthermore, hopefully there will be some discussion about how the current health system could be better redesigned to meet the changing demographics and aging population.

When Canada’s Medicare system was created approximately 50 years ago the average age of Canadians was 27. Today, the average age is 47, yet the system has only marginally adapted to meet the needs of our aging population. [2]  In particular, the health care system in Canada is still largely acute care oriented and not optimally designed to provide care for those with ongoing care needs, such as chronically ill elderly.[3] Currently seniors comprise about 14% of Canada’s population but account for almost half of health costs. By 2036, it is projected more than 25% of Canadians will be older than 65 and, by then, will account for 62% of this nation’s health costs.[4]

Along with challenges with respect to costs and a health system that is not adequately designed to meet the needs of an aging population there are also serious access issues. In 2012, for example, it was reported that 461,000 Canadians were not getting the home care they thought they required. Waiting for access to a long-term care home in Canada also ranged anywhere from 27 to 230 days. [5]

Dealing with how the health system can be better redesigned to reduce costs while meeting the needs of an aging population will require looking at critical issues such as where best to allocate limited funds and where seniors can be best cared for.  In February 2015 the BC Ministry of Health released a series of policy papers including a report on primary and community care.  One of the major themes noted in this paper is that appropriate reallocations from the acute to the community services sector must become part of go forward health authority planning and a majority of new net funding must be assigned to developing primary and community services (including residential care).[6]

Aside from  dealing with funding and system redesign issues, other issues that warrant discussion include how to deal with increasing levels of acuity as seniors enter residential care as well as better managing dementia and chronic diseases. With the upcoming federal election on October 19, 2015 some of the other issues that could also be discussed include:

  • Where do parties stand on the development of a national dementia strategy and/or national palliative care strategy?
  • Where do parties stand on development of National Seniors Strategy as advocated by the CMA to deal with aging population?
  • Where do parties stand with regards to federal funding changes to Canada Health Transfer to account for jurisdictions with older populations?
  • How would the parties support informal care givers – a group which is increasingly being relied upon to provide care for seniors?
  • How do the parties propose to deal with health human resources issues including the shortage of geriatricians?
  • How do parties intend to improve access to senior’s care including wait times?
  • Where do the parties stand on a National Pharmacare Program?
  • How would the parties address issues such as elder abuse and senior’s isolation?

The BCCPA looks forward to a discussion on these and other important issues affecting seniors and the continuing care sector. In particular, the BCCPA hopes that the federal political parties will make the issue of senior’s care a priority. This includes outlining specific proposals that will meet the needs of an aging population, foster innovation and sustainability as well as better address the challenges facing the continuing care sector.  

CMAlogoOrganizations such as the CMA have indicated that they will be tracking commitments made by the parties on seniors care and will publish the results at the end of the campaign so that Canadians can make an informed decision when they are at the ballot box.[7] Likewise, the BCCPA will also be informing its members and the public of various political commitments related to seniors through its website. The BCCPA is also working with the Canadian Alliance for Long-Term Care to highlight these critical issues including the development of a survey to increase awareness of key issues, the role of the long term care sector including challenges and priorities for federal government in meeting the needs of seniors.

 


[1] Seniors’ care now a dominant Canadian concern: CMA survey. August 2013. Accessed at: https://www.cma.ca/En/Pages/Seniors-care-dominant-Canadian-concern-CMA-survey.aspx.

[2] Time for a national seniors’ strategy. Orillia Packet & Times. Dave Dawson. August 5, 2015. Accessed at: http://www.orilliapacket.com/2015/08/05/time-for-a-national-seniors-strategy

[3] Evidence Network: Restructuring Our Healthcare System. Accessed at: http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/evidencenetwork/aging-population/agingmore5

[4] Time for a national seniors’ strategy. Orillia Packet & Times. Dave Dawson. August 5, 2015. Accessed at: http://www.orilliapacket.com/2015/08/05/time-for-a-national-seniors-strategy http://www.orilliapacket.com/2015/08/05/time-for-a-national-seniors-strategy

[5] Canadian Medical Association. Doctors to leaders: Canadians want a Seniors Care Plan in election. August 2, 2015. Accessed at: http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/doctors-to-leaders-canadians-want-a-seniors-care-plan-in-election-520419582.html

[6] Primary and Community Care in BC: A Strategic Policy Framework. BC Ministry of Health. February 2015. Accessed at: http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2015/primary-and-community-care-policy-paper.pdf

[7] Canadian Medical Association. Doctors to leaders: Canadians want a Seniors Care Plan in election. August 2, 2015. Accessed at: http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/doctors-to-leaders-canadians-want-a-seniors-care-plan-in-election-520419582.html