Seniors have been in the news this week a fair bit. Apparently the census results are in and Canada officially has more seniors than children. And the fastest growing age group are centenarians (those 100 and up). So we are living longer. Presumably we are living healthier. But, the older people get, the more likely they are to end up requiring care and ending up in a nursing home. As the number of seniors increase, so will our need for more organized and innovative care and housing.
Recent reports have alluded to the fact that our hospitals, with less beds than 2 decades ago, are over crowded with people waiting in hallways for beds in the acute care sections of the hospital. The Ontario government, in an attempt to ease this problem, is embarking on a pilot project with the retirement home sector to see if they can alleviate the overcrowding. They are testing a program of offering 'vouchers' for people to go to retirement homes temporarily. The target group are those who are unable to return home directly because of incapacity/dependence and a need for either long-term care or home care. The cost of paying for a short term retirement stay for medically stable people, is far less than the cost of keeping them in an acute care bed. While the program is termed 'innovative' it is only meant as a short term measure until alternate arrangements like long-term care placement or returning home with assistance, can be arranged.
Using retirement homes for short term stays, is not new. However, it has been something out-of-reach to those on a limited basic pension. So, while it's a great step that the government is taking, utilizing the private sector for convalescent care, especially when it is far cheaper to house people in retirement homes than in acute care hospitals, this step will only solve a small piece of a much larger problem. There is a black hole out there that is only getting bigger. We have seniors who need retirement level care that they simply can't afford. Because retirement homes are private and cost more than basic government pensions, they are not accessible to everyone. For those who need it but are on a limited income, they end up waiting until they are long-term care level often living in poor conditions and declining simply because they can't afford adequate help or support. In fact, if people go to a retirement home early enough, they may be able to completely avoid long-term care or at the very least defer it. With proper nutrition, medication monitoring and socialization, people do live healthier longer. And with the often long wait for long-term care homes, there are many waiting in hospitals or in their homes at a substantial expense to the government. It seems the the true 'solution' is to provide funding, subsidies or vouchers, on more than just a short-term temporary basis.
The writing is clearly on the wall - we have a few years to find better and more economical ways to care for our seniors. We may be heading on the right track but we still have a ways to go.