For Ontario seniors, long-term care often feels like a forgotten part of the health system

From age 75 to 91, more Ontarians live in long-term care (LTC) facilities than in public nursing homes. Long-term care living offers seniors a variety of options for short-term or long-term care — from…

For Ontario seniors, long-term care often feels like a forgotten part of the health system

From age 75 to 91, more Ontarians live in long-term care (LTC) facilities than in public nursing homes.

Long-term care living offers seniors a variety of options for short-term or long-term care — from specialized residences for individuals with dementia or physical disabilities to community-based residential and intermediate care. Unlike hospitals, LTC facilities treat a broad range of medical and psychological needs.

It’s a beautiful and important system with 1.8 million residents, 6,500 individual providers, more than 240,000 staff and 98 long-term care homes and CCACs.

The problems:

Most Ontario seniors are accessing the system too infrequently — some six to 10 times a year, on average — leaving a long-term care facility unused for half the time of fully occupied units.

Long-term care residents can become ill and injured over a prolonged period. This has been highlighted with several high-profile cases in Ontario, but costs are also high as health professionals are required to address a wide variety of episodes, such as preventable falls, fractures, infections, falls and loss of balance.

Long-term care residences aren’t prepared to provide seniors with the sophisticated services they need to adapt to the aging process, including ongoing health care, mobility and social connections. Residents’ accommodations and personal needs have to be maintained in a 24/7 environment; staff have to be trained to provide both transitional and ongoing services; and homes and CCACs need more research on seniors’ needs.

With 31 per cent of people living in Ontario retirement homes, there is need for new home and community care to ensure that residents with special needs receive the care they need.

Unfortunately, funding of long-term care services is a constant challenge. Government and the LHINs continue to fail to protect the most vulnerable seniors by creating weak accountability, leaving residents trapped in unhealthy, outdated facilities.

The great work the LHINs have done with collaborative partnerships can create a road map toward better LTC services:

Legislation

The Liberals introduced an LTC bill this year but the Progressive Conservatives have not yet acted. That’s time to pass legislation that requires improvements in LTC care, programs, facilities and resources.

Employment, Training and Learning

The LCDS (the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s LTC program) needs a comprehensive research plan to understand the needs of long-term care residents.

Licensed Long-Term Care Institutions

Ontario needs to adopt pilot projects that test the best way to meet the needs of their aging population.

Pioneering CARE for Life demonstration project:

Successful pilots have demonstrated how investment in LTC can lead to increased quality of life, improved outcomes and financial savings. Ontario should take advantage of these proven approaches to make a real difference for seniors.

Our Digital Health strategy includes innovation in long-term care and coding.

Recommendations:

Work toward a fair payment system and, where necessary, additional ways to improve LTC funding.

Boost investment in research in both LTC and Health Information Systems to identify the barriers to LTC services and ways to overcome them.

Continue to highlight the importance of LTC and use data to improve services.

Enhance the Horizons Innovation for LTC program to increase demand for higher-level care.

Enhance the Care for Life initiative to provide continuing care by helping families who are looking after the person in their LTC home.

Boost Ontario’s aging in place strategy to increase the number of people staying in their homes, community and work place, with the guidance of older workers.

Maintain a public health care plan to ensure older Ontarians receive quality, primary care in their home.

Let’s not miss an opportunity to ensure Ontarians have a safe, secure and fulfilling LTC system. Long-term care and supporting our older residents is an important feature of our community. Let’s get this right.

– Minh Thi Ha Vu was appointed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in 2015 to chair the Long-Term Care Review Committee. Dr. Vu served as Minister of Health in the Progressive Conservative government in Ontario from 2001 to 2003.

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