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November 06, 2013
Time for a seniors’ health care strategy, CMA says

Canada needs a national health care strategy for seniors, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) says.

In its 2013 National Report Card on health issues, the CMA calls the current situation “unsustainable” as aging baby boomers begin to crowd medical facilities and the demand for geriatric medical services rises.

“Most Canadians don’t realize that, in many places in the country, it’s very difficult to get appropriate senior health care outside of hospitals,” says CMA President Dr. Anna Reid.

While the majority of Canadians surveyed by the CMA agree that strategies are needed to address the long-term care and home care needs of seniors, few resources have been directed to health care for seniors to date.  For example, it costs $842 per day to provide care in an acute care hospital while long-term care facilities and nursing homes cost an average of $126 per day.  However, many seniors remain in acute care hospitals for weeks or months at a time awaiting assignment to long-term care facilities.

The urgency of the situation was highlighted in an August 19, 2013 Global News article indicating that, in Ontario, only 14 people are currently in training to become geriatricians.  According to the Canadian Resident Matching Service, which provides an electronic application service and a computer match for entry into postgraduate medical training, only 11 out of 421 third-year internal medicine residents chose geriatrics as their first choice in 2012.  

With the number of seniors expected to grow to 6.4 million, or one in five Canadians, by 2018, the implications of the lack of trained medical professionals in geriatrics “could be grave,” the Global News article states.  

Geriatrics is often overlooked  by medical students in favour of more high profile disciplines such as surgery, psychiatry, family medicine and pediatrics, the article states.  Today, there are 0.65 geriatricians per 10,000 of population.  There are 10 times that many pediatricians, despite the fact that the proportion of children in the population has declined steadily since the early 1970s.  

The impact of the “grey wave” is already being felt in the workplace, the CMA asserts.  According to the 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, conducted by Carleton University and Western University, one-quarter of Canadians now spend time each week with eldercare.  On average, they direct 6.9 hours per week caring for elderly relatives.  The result is increased absenteeism and reduced productivity.  That number will only increase as the proportion of seniors in the population rises.

“It’s a matter of looking at how we spend our money,” Dr. Reid says.  “If we don’t want to bankrupt the health care system, we better start using our money in more efficient ways.”

For plan sponsors, health care for seniors is hardly an academic issue.  With more workers opting to stay on the job beyond age 65, the impact of the lack geriatric medicine and services will likely be reflected in benefit plan experience to some degree in the coming years.  As well, the numbers of leaves of absence requested by employees to care for the elderly will also likely increase.

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