Waterloo Wellington's home care provider admits it still has "a ways to go" before it can meet new wait time targets set by the province.

Ninety per cent of those who weren't in hospital and applied for home care from the Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre in 2011-2012 got a first visit within 15 days, figures released last week by provincial agency Health Quality Ontario show.

That's the second-longest wait time among 14 CCACs in the province, behind the Toronto Central region, where 90 per cent of applicants got a first visit within 16 days.

The year before, the community wait time number in Waterloo Wellington was 19 days, also the second-longest in Ontario.

The average in Ontario for home care — assistance provided by healthcare professionals and support workers to people with clinical needs in their homes — was 12 days in 2011-2012.

"Can we do better? Absolutely," said Gloria Cardoso, a senior director with Waterloo Wellington CCAC.

"Have we made significant progress? Absolutely. Do we have a bit more to go? I would say yes."

While the CCAC has struggled with getting timely home care for residents in the community, it does far better when people apply for service while in hospital

Wait times from hospital are at six days, on par with the provincial average.

5-day target

The provincial government in May set a five-day target for homecare wait times across the province. It has invested $260 million in its budget for the year to achieve that goal, with $185 million going directly to local CCACs for home care delivery.

Exactly how that money will be allocated — and how homecare service agencies will meet the province's new wait time targets — is not yet clear. 

A spokesman for the province said in an email that "work is underway – including discussions with the CCACs – and more details will be announced in the coming months."

Cardoso of the Waterloo Wellington CCAC says the agency is "looking towards achieving that five-day target. For some of our services we absolutely are there. Others, we still have a ways to go."

Couple waits 3 months for bathing support

Rosita Lugosi's husband Vince has dementia with severe short term memory loss. He can no longer dress on his own or learn new tasks.

It took three months for the the Guelph couple to get bathing help from the CCAC, who requested assistance after he took a hard fall in the downstairs bath tub.

"There was blood on the towel that he used, and also blood on the floor and at the same time, the water downspout was kind of bent," said Rosita Lugosi.

"He came out of it, I guess, on the wrong way."

Rosita uses a walker and can't go down stairs and says it was then that she realized they needed help.

"All his life he's been taking baths. He has no idea how to operate a shower," she said.

"It's not easy for him to learn how to do anything new because of his dementia. If you ask him 'What did you eat this morning?' even if it's five minutes ago, he would say 'I don't have any idea at all.' He can't learn new things"

At first, the CCAC didn't seem to understand why Vince couldn't shower in their upstairs bathroom instead, she said.

But now he gets bathing support twice a week, and Rosita says they have a good relationship with her husband and it's working very well.

Home care: the cheapest option

Providing people like the Lugosis with the care they need at home and out of hospitals and long term care facilities is the key to ensuring the sustainability of the healthcare system in Ontario, say experts. 

Dr. Samir Sinha, the provincial lead for the Ontario seniors care strategy, says the old system of relying on long term care homes is too costly, unsustainable and ultimately not what people want.

"A day in a hospital costs about $1,000 a day. A day in a long term care home costs about $133 a day, and a day of home and community care, or supportive housing costs about $55 a day," said Sinha.

"So the economic arguments are there ... this is an argument that whatever part of the political spectrum you are on, it's an argument that appeals to everybody."

Further, those aged 65 and over make up about 15 per cent of the province's population, but account for more than half of its health and social care spending. The Waterloo Wellington region is slightly younger, at 13 per cent, but according to Ministry of Finance numbers, it's aging rapidly — faster than most other regional healthcare networks in Ontario.

And in the next 20 years, the number of local Ontarians 65 and older is projected to increase to 206,000 from about 94,000.

"Home care is an incredibly vital part of our health care system," said Sinha.

"Right now the demand for home and community care services continues to grow as we have a continually aging population and that's where we need to put more of our support and effort in as we move forward in the future."