Toronto

Home care pitched as solution to hospital overcrowding problem

With Premier Doug Ford preparing to shake up the health system and promising to tackle hospital overcrowding, home care providers see an opportunity and are launching a campaign Thursday to take advantage of it.

Campaign 'aligns well' with Ford's promises to cut deficit, end hallway medicine, says Home Care Ontario CEO

Home Care Ontario, an umbrella group of for-profit and non-profit agencies, wants the Doug Ford government to spend an extra $600 million a year on home care as a way to reduce the strain on hospitals. (iStock)

With Premier Doug Ford preparing to shake up Ontario's health system and promising to tackle hospital overcrowding, home care providers see an opportunity. 

The umbrella group Home Care Ontario will launch a campaign Thursday called "End Hallway Healthcare." The group of for-profit and non-profit agencies will pitch home care as an affordable solution to the province's chronically overstretched supply of hospital beds.

The providers argue that spending more on publicly-funded home care can help reduce the need for hospital admissions and help patients who are admitted get out of acute care more quickly.

"If we gave more anticipatory home care and more protective home care that prevented people from having to go into the hospital or the [emergency room] in a situation where they didn't need to, we could reduce a lot of health care costs," said Sue Vanderbent, CEO of Home Care Ontario, in an interview Wednesday. 

"People recover better at home, so the faster we can get people home, the better," said Vanderbent.  "We need to have a robust home care system to be able to do that." 

Rueben Devlin, a special adviser on health care to Premier Doug Ford, says insufficient capacity in home care is one of the reasons behind the hallway medicine problem. (Algonquin College/Twitter)

On any given day, some 4,000 patients in Ontario hospitals don't actually require an acute-care bed. Many of those are waiting for a spot in long-term care or home-care services. 

Many officials in the health sector believe those "alternate level of care" patients are at the root of the hallway medicine problem, and boosting home care is at least part of the answer. 

"They could be recovering in the comfort of their own home — if only they had access to a professional home care worker. We need to bring more care out of the hallway and into the home," says Home Care Ontario's advocacy website, which will urge people to contact their MPPs. 

The home-care providers believe Ford's PC government, in its drive to cut costs, will be interested in shifting spending from pricey hospital rooms to far cheaper home care. 

"I think it aligns pretty well with what Premier Ford is talking about," said Vanderbent.

In its pre-budget submission presented last month, Home Care Ontario asked the government to inject an extra $600 million into home care. That would be a 20 per cent jump in the current annual home care budget of $3 billion.  

Some 700,000 Ontarians receive publicly-funded home care services, from an annual budget of $3 billion.

Home care is on the radar of a panel of experts that Ford appointed to look into the problem. Known as the Premier's Council of Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine, the experts said some people are spending more days in hospital than they need to because they can't access other options for health care.

"There is insufficient capacity in community care systems — like home care and mental health and addictions care — to prevent people from needing to go to hospital and to enable them to return home from hospital quickly," says the council's first report, submitted two weeks ago. 

It's far from the first time that home care agencies have pitched themselves as the answer to what ails the health system.

Home Care Ontario also asked the Wynne government last year to boost funding to the sector by $600 million. The home-care budget was increased, but only by $180 million. That provided an extra 2.8 million hours of personal support and 284,000 more nursing visits. 

Critics say simply spending much more money on home care is not a cure-all. They say better integration of home-care services with hospitals and family doctors is essential to making any improvements. 

More than 700,000 Ontarians receive publicly-funded home care each year. Home care takes up about five per cent of the overall health budget of $60 billion.  

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark

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