TORONTO, Ontario / The Globe & Mail / Editorials / April 22, 2011
In many provinces, health care consumes at least 40 per cent of total program spending. Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of the population, with 4.8 million people aged 65 and older, a figure expected to increase to 10.4 million in 2036.
Those facts alone should prompt party leaders to devise a plan for a health-care overhaul, but instead they cling to their old ways: high on transfer payments and low on vision.
More related to this story
• Canada’s seniors: The doctor will see you now
• Effective elder care starts at home, experts say
• Are we in denial about the growing issue of elder care?
Geriatricians make the rounds
Consider this common scenario. A frail senior on multiple drugs for chronic conditions receives care that is not well managed, prompting a medical crisis that necessitates a hospital visit. The patient is hooked to machines of low benefit and prescribed medications that worsen cognitive function, growing so weak in bed that the only solution eventually becomes a nursing home.
With no nursing bed available, the patient is trapped in hospital, like thousands of other Canadians every day, spawning health-care chaos; the emergency department backs up and operations are cancelled. It amounts to poor, expensive, inefficient care.
The president of the Canadian Medical Association, Jeff Turnbull, says that at the Ottawa Hospital where he is the chief of staff, as many as 150 such patients a day await placement elsewhere. So far, he hasn’t heard a comprehensive health-reform plan – just piecemeal initiatives.
Key to any health-reform plan would be more doctors to care for the elderly. Geriatricians are troubleshooters who spend time with patients, going over medications, dealing with memory problems and helping avert medical crises. There are only 238 of them, and experts say 500 more are needed.
Any new geriatricians would need a health-care system to work in – one that features house calls, home care and other supports for seniors. Without these changes, seniors will continue to languish in hospital beds and face the undignified ending they so wanted to avoid.
© Copyright 2011 The Globe and Mail Inc.