The Right Care for our Seniors. Right Now.

An Opinion Editorial by Candace Chartier, CEO, Ontario Long Term Care Association - published May 8, 2015 in the Brantford Expositor

Over the last five years, the long-term care in sector in Ontario has undergone profound change. Seniors would come to our long-term care homes with mixed care needs. Some required minimal care support, and some had very high care needs. The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care changed this practice in 2010. Now, only people with high or very high care needs are eligible for long-term care in Ontario, when living at home is no longer an option. Put simply, our seniors are entering long-term care homes when they are older, more frail, and in need of more medical and personal care than ever before.

Part of this is due to the province’s aging-in-place policy direction, which has made more funding available for care at home and ushered in stricter admission criteria for long-term care. The more complex health needs of new residents in long-term care are changing the role of our homes, which are fulfilling a very different role than they did in years past. 

As a result, our long-term care homes have reached a critical time. Provincial funding has not kept pace with the changing demographic of the seniors staying in long-term care homes. This is despite the fact that the care provided in long-term care homes is not only more appropriate for seniors than in other health care facilities like hospitals, but it also costs significantly less. Recent data from the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care shows that it costs up to 80% less per day, to care for a senior in a long-term care home than it does in hospitals or other complex continuing care facilities. 

As Canada’s largest long-term care Association, we are working to change things. We represent a full spectrum of public, private and not-for-profit members who provide care, accommodation and service to almost 70,000 seniors annually. We have been advocating to the government to increase funding, revise regulations, and expand specialty programs for residents suffering from dementia. Our work included the launch of a province-wide advocacy campaign,

We’re pleased that last fall the government announced funding to rebuild hundreds of long-term care homes that desperately require rebuilding. This investment will help us widen hallways, update dilapidated dining rooms, and reduce the number of residents forced to live in overcrowded bedrooms, creating a safer, more comfortable living space for thousands of seniors.

More recently, the budget introduced by the Wynne government last month makes some additional investments to ensure we can maintain the level of care we’re currently providing.

But these steps alone won’t allow us to hire the staff we need to keep up with the growing care needs of our seniors in long-term care today, let alone in the years to come. We’re particularly concerned about our ability to care for the growing number of seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

62% of long-term care residents live with Alzheimer’s or other dementias; nearly 1 in 3 residents have severe cognitive impairment. The prevalence of dementia and chronic mental health conditions in the elder population has increased dramatically in the past decade. The same is true of neurological and behavioural disorders.

To help identify and provide the appropriate mental health supports for these seniors, the province granted funding to hire a team of specialized health care professionals to work within several homes across the province. Data from these homes proves that the program is working. As a result, we’re calling on the province to make this funding available to all long-term care homes in Ontario. 

By working closely with government, other providers, residents and their families, we know that we can take the necessary steps to provide our seniors with better care. They deserve it. Without appropriate, long-term funding and some flexibility to introduce new solutions into our long-term care system, our homes are going to increasingly turn into institutions, not the caring homes that our seniors deserve. The challenges are real and need to be addressed. Right now.