Vancouver Sun op-ed: We Need to Take Better Care of Our Seniors

The following opinion column is featured in Monday’s Vancouver Sun newspaper.

By Daniel Fontaine

We’ve all heard the warnings — Canada is facing a “silver tsunami” of aging senior citizens who will inevitably overwhelm the health care system.

While the analogy is somewhat imperfect, it is easy to see why it is used when over 25 per cent of the population will be 65 years or older within the next two decades. There will be major ramifications if we do not take some immediate steps to prepare for this huge demographic shift.

Today, Canada’s health care system is not prepared to meet the challenges of this ageing population. Especially when you factor in an increased prevalence of mental health issues such as dementia, and other chronic diseases. Furthermore, the health care system is still largely acute-care oriented and not optimally designed to provide care for those with ongoing needs, such as frail seniors and the chronically ill.

To meet some of these challenges facing the health system, last spring the B.C. Care Providers Association (BCCPA) released two major white papers outlining a number of options to improve the sustainability of the continuing care sector, as well as to foster innovation.

The first BCCPA White Paper focuses primarily on issues relating to the funding and financing of continuing care. It presents several ideas to improve sustainability and enhance quality within the sector, including for health care workers and seniors.

The second BCCPA White Paper proposes innovative approaches in five key areas in the continuing care sector — ideas that include exploring new care models for seniors, improving dementia care, making effective use of technology, improving health and safety and promoting the well-being of seniors.

Along with targeting the needs of an aging population, the papers highlight potential ways to reduce acute-care congestion and emergency-room visits, and to provide better care in the community for the frail elderly, including seniors with chronic conditions and dementia.

While the options outlined in the papers may be feasible within the B.C. context, the direction of the future of seniors care in our province has to be based on achieving cooperation and consensus across the whole sector.

That is why over the past four months, the BCCPA has sought input from a wide range of stakeholders on the options and ideas presented in the papers. The BCCPA’s public consultation survey received over 750 responses from British Columbians over an 8-week period, including over 400 seniors. The survey found that:

  • 72 per cent of survey respondents would support the allocation of government subsidized vouchers in lieu of government provision of long-term care;
  • 85 per cent of survey respondents agree that the B.C. government should increase funding for seniors care in order to increase staffing levels;
  • 62 per cent of British Columbians disagree that the B.C. government is doing enough to address the issue of seniors social isolation.
  • 85 per cent agree that BC should be leading the development of a National Seniors Health Promotion Strategy.

To conclude our comprehensive consultation process, this week we are assembling over 150 participants from across the province for our first B.C. Continuing Care Collaborative at the SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue. Attendees include health care experts, care providers, front-line workers, government, union leaders, health authority representatives, as well as family members exposed to seniors care. Each participant will have an opportunity to share their insights, and give feedback on the options outlined in the white papers.

BCCPA will compile all this information in order to develop of a final position paper and action plan with key recommendations to the B.C. government, the health authorities, and the continuing care sector as a whole.

Ultimately, BCCPA hopes that each stakeholder will begin taking concrete actions to improve and sustain seniors care going forward. Now is the time to take action as well as develop real, practical, and fiscally sustainable solutions to meet the needs of the chronically ill and frail elderly.

Daniel Fontaine is CEO for the B.C. Care Providers Association.