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December 21, 2011
Health system must “re-tool” to accommodate older patients

Canada’s health care system will have to be “re-tooled” to meet the demands of a growing population of elderly patients, data released from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) suggests.

According to the CIHI, 10 per cent of acute care beds are being occupied by elderly patients with nowhere else to go.  A total of 1.7 million hospital days per year are dedicated to patients who no longer need acute care. 

With hospital funding at a premium, the role of matching the needs of elderly patients with alternate care facilities is increasingly falling on local health care administrators.  For many, that means establishing relationships with home care, long-term care, rehabilitation, hospital and other providers to ensure that elderly patients with long-term needs don’t congest primary care centres.

“If you have one thing wrong with you we don’t do a bad job,” says the CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System of Hamilton, Ontario’s Dr. Kevin Smith.  “If you have complex, multiple issues, the system is not a system.”

Ultimately, he says, alternate care services like hospice or long-term care beds may have to be housed under one roof so that the various health care practitioners “no longer operate in their own silos.”

St. Joseph’s is one of the first hospitals to merge long-term and continuing care, rehabilitation and other services into a traditional acute care facility.

Only seven per cent of Ontario’s hospital beds are designed to accommodate alternate levels of care outside of the traditional hospital concept.  However, that still leads the nation.  The other provinces only dedicate two to five per cent of their hospital beds to alternative care, the CIHI says.

In total, 14 per cent of the Canadian population is over the age of 65.  That number is expected to rise to 23 per cent by 2025.

“A system that isn’t more responsive to patients with multiple needs will not meet the needs of the future,” Dr. Smith says.

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