The right care, time and place for seniors
(Postmedia file photo)
It is very important for the provincial government and its policy makers to recognize the impact that linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious services have on health-care outcomes for residents living in long-term care.
Having worked and studied in long-term care for more than 20 years I have noticed that mealtime, music and faith-based services are the three most regularly attended and impactful social events within long-term care homes.
In addition, the Canadian Institute of Health Information reports that 60 to 70 per cent of residents living in long-term care have some form of dementia, and there is plenty of evidence that supports the following: people who suffer from dementia often revert back to their mother tongue.
Furthermore, the French Health Society of Canada reports that linguistic barriers are an important obstacle for francophones’ health when they live in minority situations. Miscommunication can cause diagnostic errors in treatment, medicine errors and increase preventable health risks. Linguistic barriers pose serious concerns in equitable delivery of health care that can result in inferior quality of life.
The province has announced that by 2025, 30,000 long-term care beds will be redeveloped to upgrade building standards equal to the Long Term Care Act and regulations.
Although this news is very positive, there is clearly an urgent need for new beds to the system. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care reported that it currently has 78,500 places for long-term care and, unfortunately, the 27,000 individuals who are on the waitlist wait for an average of 2.9 years to secure care because occupancy rates hover around 99 per cent — a major capacity issue.
The Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors suggests that if nothing is done, the waitlist for long-term care could climb to nearly 48,000 by 2021.
In Niagara, we have a unique challenge due to the fact that we have one of the highest percentages of seniors per capita in Canada and we lack the available geriatric resources compared to other communities.
For example, currently there are 515 unique people waiting for placement in long-term care in Welland, which is a 1:1 ratio (beds available to people waiting) compared to three beds for every one person waiting provincially. This will have negative consequences across the entire system.
Seniors who must wait for placement in long-term care homes deteriorate more quickly, use more health-care services and end up in hospital emergency departments more frequently costing our health-care system more money. We should strive to allow for people to get ‘the right care, in the right language, at the right time and at the right place.’
Some may consider Niagara’s demographics to be a ‘senior tsunami’ with very low capacity where we heavily rely on informal caregivers.
According to the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, more than eight million Canadians provided informal care to a family member or friend last year. It reported that the economic value of caregivers is astounding, between $24 billion to $30 billion per year. These are some of the unsung heroes; without them, where would our health care system be?
I would like to urge our friends at the Ministry of Health to consider adding 2,500 to 5,000 new long-term care beds over the next two years as a starting point to meet demand.
Priority should be given to not-for-profit French designated long-term care homes that have been slated for redevelopment and are located in emergency areas for shortages of long-term care licences.
Foyer Richelieu in Welland is a leading employer for francophones wanting to work in health care and in their native tongue, which retains and attracts many talented bilingual employees and families to Niagara. Other such organizations is the Centre de Santé Communautaire Hamilton-Niagara, which has been recognized as an early adopter for new programs by the Local Health Integrated Network and has developed many partnerships with Foyer Richelieu over the years so that the residents can receive more high-quality services in French.
Policy makers, service providers, residents/patients and informal caregivers have a significant challenge ahead in ensuring that Canadians continue to receive efficient, high-quality health-care services. Some have even referred to it as “apocalyptic demographics” (Gee and Gutman, 2000) or “Aging Tsunami” (Sinha, 2014).
However, by investing in our high quality not-for-profit service providers, ensuring that linguistic and culturally based organizations are given the opportunity to be viable and having Canadians continue to invest in their elders we will continue to strive and meet increasing demographic demands for long-term care services.