Seniors: System needs reform, not piecemeal promises
The fourth in a series of opinion pieces written by the public during the election campaign
The concerns of seniors in Nova Scotia will not be met by piecemeal election promises.
Seniors are rightly concerned about their future. Where they will live. Will they be able to afford a reasonable standard of living? Will the health-care system be adequate for their needs? The political parties need to provide an integrated plan that recognizes the interconnectivity of the health, housing and economic issues that face seniors in our province.
CARP Nova Scotia's research shows only 31 per cent of Atlantic Canadian seniors believe the system is able to meet their needs. In a recent survey of its members, CARP found 51 per cent rated health care as their greatest concern, followed closely by housing and economic concerns.
Nova Scotian seniors are looking to the political parties to support a health-care system that will have:
- Stable funding.
- Focused geriatric care.
- Higher mandatory standards of home care.
- Sufficient funding for home care services so seniors can stay in their own homes.
- Affordable housing.
- Income support for caregivers.
- A plan to meet the needs of the growing number of patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
- Education and respite for caregiving family members.
- Shorter wait times.
- Equitable access to decent long-term care.
- Improved dental care.
- Quality palliative end-of-life care and hospice facilities.
Many politicians seem to be fixated on increasing beds in hospitals and long-term care facilities. In the next 25 years, 25 per cent of Nova Scotians will be 65 or older. Creating more beds is not the best long-term solution to look after that burgeoning senior population.
Seniors want to be assured they will be able to access appropriate medical care so they will be healthy enough to stay in their own homes. This position is supported by a Canadian Medical Association poll that found 93 per cent of seniors want the health-care system improved so they can be home as long as possible. This, of course, is a much less expensive option for the province than housing them in hospitals, long-term care centres or nursing homes.
Home care will not only have to be more widely available, but must look different. It will require creative approaches such as community based teams of professionals like nurse practitioners and other geriatric specialists with a wide range of skills who would work with seniors in their own homes.
CARP Nova Scotia believes the overall solution to meet the needs of the growing number of Nova Scotia seniors is to create a continuum of care that emphasizes integration, effective navigation and formal communication. Separately, the individual components of the health system, no matter how effective, treat patients in a piecemeal manner.
Nova Scotia needs a person-centred system where patients go smoothly from first diagnosis, through appropriate treatment, acute and long-term care, to end of life. Fundamental to this work will be a computerized database available to all the professionals dealing with the senior that will track patient treatment. It will also require more emphasis on geriatric specialties in our medical schools.
CARP Nova Scotia believes stable funding and a realignment of current health services to meet the needs of seniors would not require significant increased costs to the system.
For instance, if the amount of home care available was increased, the annual cost to government would be 25 to 30 per cent less than the cost of housing those seniors in long-term care facilities. In the case of preventative dental care for seniors, the research shows the subsequent reduction of oral health issues would lead to lower costs in many other areas of seniors' health.
Health-care services for Nova Scotia seniors must be built upon research and evidence with checks and balances in place to ensure transparency and accountability. Overarching this reform, there must be an integrated, holistic person-centred approach, in which the perspective and needs of seniors (including housing, transportation and economic concerns) guide and ensure effective delivery of services to seniors.