Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. The number of seniors expected to need help or care in the next 30 years will double, placing an unprecedented challenge on Canada’s health care system. That we face this challenge speaks to the immense success story that is modern medicine, but it doesn’t in any way minimize the task ahead.
Publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago when Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. People 85 and older make up the fastest growing age group in our country, and the growth in the number of centenarians is also expected to continue.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is studying ways Canada can respond to these challenges. Here, for your consideration, we present 15 comprehensive recommendations that would help our seniors remain active, contributing citizens of their communities while improving the quality of their lives. These range from increasing capital investment in residential care infrastructure, to enhancing assistance for caregivers, to improving the senior-friendliness of our neighbourhoods.
The task faced by this committee, indeed the task faced by all of Canada, is daunting. That said, it is manageable and great advances can be made on behalf of seniors. By doing so, we will ultimately deliver both health and financial benefits to all Canadians.
Dr. Laurent Marcoux, CMA President
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to submit this brief to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities as part of its study regarding how the Government can support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors population of tomorrow. This brief directly addresses the three themes considered by this Committee:
How the Government can improve access to housing for seniors including aging in place and affordable and accessible housing;
How the Government can improve income security for vulnerable seniors; and
How the Government can improve the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors including community programming, social inclusivity, and social determinants of health.
Improving access to housing for seniors
As part of a new National Housing Strategy, the federal government announced in the 2017 Budget that it will invest more than $11.2 billion in a range of initiatives designed to build, renew, and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and help to ensure that Canadians have adequate and affordable housing that meets their needs. While a welcome step, physicians continue to see the problems facing seniors in relation to a lack of housing options and supports — problems that cascade across the entire health care system.
A major hindrance to social equity in health care delivery and a serious cause of wait times is the inappropriate placement of patients, particularly seniors, in hospitals. Alternate level of care (ALC) beds are often used in acute care hospitals to accommodate patients — most of whom are medically stable seniors — waiting for appropriate levels of home care or access to a residential care home/facility. High rates of ALC patients in hospitals affect all patients by contributing to hospital overcrowding, lengthy waits in emergency departments, delayed hospital admissions, cancelled elective surgeries, and sidelined ambulance services waiting to offload new arrivals (often referred to as code gridlock).1 Moreover, unnecessarily long hospital stays can leave patients vulnerable to hospital-acquired illnesses and disabilities such as delirium, deconditioning, and falls.
Daily costs - Ontario
$842: acute care hospital, per patient
$126: long-term care residence, per patient
$42: home care, per patient
# of acute care hospital beds = 18,571 14% waiting for placement = 2,600 beds
Providing more cost-effective and appropriate solutions will optimize the use of health care resources. It has been estimated that it costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed and $42 per day for care at home.2 An investment in appropriate home or residential care, which can take many forms, will alleviate inappropriate hospital admissions and facilitate timely discharges.
The residential care sector is facing significant challenges because of the rising numbers of older seniors with increasingly complex care needs. The demand for residential care will increase significantly over the next several years because of the growing number of frail elderly seniors requiring this service. New facilities will need to be constructed and existing facilities will need to be upgraded to comply with enhanced regulatory requirements and respond to residents’ higher care needs.
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a residential care bed forecast tied to population growth of age cohorts. It is estimated that Canada will require an average of 10,500 new beds per year over the next 19 years, for a total of 199,000 new beds by 2035. This forecast does not include the investments needed to renovate and retrofit existing long-term care homes.3 A recent report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicated that residential care capacity must double over the next 20 years (assuming no change in how care is currently provided), necessitating a transformation in how seniors care is provided across the continuum of care.4 These findings provide a sense of the immense challenges Canada faces in addressing the residential care needs of older seniors.
Investments in residential care infrastructure and continuing care will improve care for seniors while significantly reducing wait times in hospitals and across the system, benefiting all patients. Efforts to de-hospitalize the system and address the housing and residential care options for Canada’s aging population are key. The federal government can provide significant pan-Canadian assistance by investing in residential care infrastructure.
The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in residential care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
Improving income security for vulnerable seniors
Income is a key factor impacting the health of individuals and communities. Higher income and social status are linked to better health.5
Adequate Income: Poverty among seniors in Canada dropped sharply in the 1970s and 1980s but it has been rising in recent years. In 2012, the incidence of low income among people aged 65 years and over was 12.1%. This rate was considerably higher for single seniors at 28.5%.6
Incidence of low income (2012)
Seniors overall: 12.1%
Single seniors: 28.5%
Most older Canadians rely on Old Age Security (OAS), the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), and their personal pensions or investments to maintain their basic standard of living in retirement. Some seniors are also eligible for a Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to improve their financial security. The CMA recognizes the federal government’s actions to strengthen these programs and initiatives to ensure their viability and to provide sustainable tax relief. These measures must continue and evolve to support aging Canadians so they can afford to live at home or in age-friendly communities as they get older. The government’s actions to ensure adequate income support will also assist aging Canadians to take care of their health, maintain independence, and continue living safely without the need for institutional care.
On the topic of seniors’ income security, the financial abuse of seniors cannot be overlooked. Elder abuse can take many forms: financial, physical, psychological, sexual, and neglect. Often the abuser is a family member, friend, or other person in a position of trust. Researchers estimate that 4 to 10% of Canadian seniors experience abuse or neglect, but that only a small portion of this is reported. The CMA supports public awareness initiatives that bring attention to elder abuse, as well as programs to intervene with seniors who are abused and with their abusers.
The CMA recommends that the federal government take steps to provide adequate income support for older Canadians, as well as education and protection from financial abuse.
Improving the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors
Improving how we support and care for Canada’s growing seniors population has been a priority for CMA over the past several years. For the first time in Canada’s history, persons aged 65 years and older outnumber those under the age of 15 years.7 Seniors are projected to represent over 20% of the population by 2024 and up to 25% of the population by 2036.8 People aged 85 years and over make up the fastest growing age group in Canada — this portion of the population grew by 127% between 1993 and 2013.9 Statistics Canada projects, on the basis of a medium-growth scenario, that there will be over 11,100 Canadians aged 100 years and older by 2021, 14,800 by 2026 and 20,300 by 2036.7
Though age does not automatically mean ill health or disability, the risk of both increases with age. Approximately 75 to 80% of Canadian seniors report having one or more chronic conditions.10 Because of increasing rates of disability and chronic disease, the demand for health services is expected to increase as Canada’s population ages. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated 2.4 million Canadians 65 years and older will need continuing care, both paid and unpaid, by 2026 — a 71% increase since 2011.11
When publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago, Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. The aging of our population is both a success story and a pressing health policy issue.
National seniors strategy
Canada needs a new approach to ensure that both our aging population and the rest of Canadians can get the care they need, when and where they need it. The CMA believes that the federal government should invest in seniors care now, guided by a pan-Canadian seniors strategy. In doing so, it can help aging Canadians be as productive as possible — at work, in their communities, and in their homes.
The CMA is pleased with the June 2017 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance that called for the federal government to develop, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and Indigenous partners, a national seniors strategy in order to control spending growth while ensuring appropriate and accessible care.12 The CMA is also pleased that MP Marc Serré (Nickel Belt) secured support for his private members’ motion calling for the development of a national seniors strategy. Over 50,000 Canadians have already lent their support to this cause (see www.DemandaPlan.ca).
The CMA recommends that the federal government provide targeted funding to support the development of a pan-Canadian seniors strategy to address the needs of the aging population.
Improving assistance for home care and Canada’s caregivers
Many of the services required by seniors, in particular home care and long-term care, are not covered by the Canada Health Act. Funding for these services varies widely from province to province. The disparity among the provinces in terms of their fiscal capacity in the current economic climate will mean improvements in seniors care will advance at an uneven pace. The funding and delivery of accessible home care services will help more aging Canadians to recover from illness, live at home longer, and contribute to their families and communities. Multi-year funding arrangements to reinforce commitment to and financial investment in home care should be carefully considered.13 The development of innovative partnerships and models to help ensure services and resources for seniors’ seamless transition across the continuum of care are also important.
The CMA recommends governments work with the health and social services sectors, and with private insurers, to develop a framework for the funding and delivery of accessible and sustainable home care and long-term care services.
Family and friend caregivers are an extremely important part of the health care system. A 2012 Statistics Canada study found that 5.4 million Canadians provided care to a senior family member or friend, and 62% of caregivers helping seniors said that the care receiver lived in a private residence separate from their own.14 According to a report by Carers Canada, the Canadian Home Care Association, and the Canadian Cancer Action Network, caregivers provide an array of services including personal and medical care, housekeeping, advocacy, financial management, and social/emotional support. The report also indicated that caregivers contribute $25 billion in unpaid labour to our health system.15 Given their enormous contributions, Canada’s caregivers need support in the form of financial assistance, education, peer support, and respite care. A pan-Canadian caregiver strategy is needed to ensure caregivers are provided with the support they require.15
Personal and Medical Care
worth $25 billion in
Social-emo ional Suppor
The CMA recommends that the federal government and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian caregiver strategy, and expand the support programs currently offered to informal caregivers.
Canadians want governments to do more to help seniors and their family caregivers.16 The federal government’s new combined Canada Caregiver Credit
(CCC) is a non-refundable credit to individuals caring for dependent relatives with infirmities (including persons with disabilities). The CCC will be more accessible and will extend tax relief to more caregivers by including dependent relatives who do not live with their caregivers and by increasing the income threshold. Making the new CCC a refundable tax credit for caregivers whose tax owing is less than the total credit would result in a refund payment to provide further financial support for low-income families.
The CMA recommends that the federal government improve awareness of the new Canada Caregiver Credit and amend it to make it a refundable tax credit for caregivers.
The federal government’s recent commitment to provide $6 billion over 10 years to the provinces and territories for home care, including support for caregivers, is a welcome step toward improving opportunities for seniors to remain in their homes. As with previous bilateral funding agreements, it is important to establish clear operating principles between the parties to oversee the funding implementation and for the development of clear metrics to measure performance.
The CMA recommends that the federal government develop explicit operating principles for the home care funding that has been negotiated with the provinces and territories to recognize funding for caregivers and respite care as eligible areas of investment.
The federal government’s recent funding investments in home care and mental health recognize the importance of these aspects of the health care system. They also signal that Canada has under-invested in home and community-based care to date. Other countries have more supportive systems and programs in place — systems and programs that Canada should consider.
The CMA recommends the federal government convene an all-party parliamentary international study that includes stakeholders to examine the approaches taken to mitigate the inappropriate use of acute care for elderly persons and provide support for caregivers.
Programs and supports to promote healthy aging
The CMA believes that governments at all levels should invest in programs and supports to promote healthy aging, a comprehensive continuum of health services to provide optimal care and support to older Canadians, and an environment and society that is “age friendly”.17
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines healthy aging as “the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, social and mental health to enable seniors to take an active part in society without discrimination and to enjoy independence and quality of life.”18 It is believed that initiatives to promote healthy aging and enable older Canadians to maintain their health will help lower health care costs by reducing the overall burden of disability and chronic disease. Such initiatives should focus on physical activity, good nutrition, injury (e.g. falls) prevention, and seniors’ mental health (including depression).
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels support programs to promote physical activity, nutrition, injury prevention, and mental health among older Canadians.
For seniors who have multiple chronic diseases or disabilities, care needs can be complex, and they may vary greatly from one person to another and involve many health care providers. Complex care needs demand a flexible and responsive health system. The CMA believes that quality health care for older Canadians should be delivered on a continuum from community-based health care (e.g. primary health care, chronic disease management programs), to home care
(e.g. visiting health care workers to give baths and foot care), to long-term care and palliative care. Ideally, this continuum should be managed so that the senior can remain at home and out of emergency departments, hospitals, and long-term care unless appropriate; easily access necessary care; and make a smooth transition from one level of care to another when necessary.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement models of integrated, interdisciplinary health service delivery for older Canadians.
Every senior should have the opportunity to have a family physician or to be part of a family practice that serves as a medical home. This provides a central hub for the timely provision and coordination of the comprehensive menu of health and medical services. A medical home should provide patients with access to medical advice and the provision of, or direction to, needed care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Research in 2014 by the Commonwealth Fund found that the percentage of Canadian seniors who have a regular family physician or place of care is very high (98%); however, their ability to get timely access based on same-day or next-day appointments was among the lowest of 11 nations.19 Compared to seniors in most other countries surveyed, Canadian seniors were also more likely to use the emergency department and experience problems with care coordination.
The CMA recommends governments continue efforts to ensure that older Canadians have access to a family physician, supported by specialized geriatric services as appropriate.
Prescription drugs represent the fastest-growing item in the health budget and the second-largest category of health expenditure. As the population of seniors grows, there will be an ongoing need for detailed information regarding seniors’ drug use and expenditure to support the overall management of public drug programs.20 Despite some level of drug coverage for seniors in all provinces and territories, some seniors still skip doses or avoid filling prescriptions due to cost, and more research into the extent of this problem is required.21 The CMA supports the development of an equitable and comprehensive pan-Canadian pharmacare program. As a step toward comprehensive, universal coverage, the CMA has repeatedly called on the federal government to implement a system of catastrophic coverage for prescription medication to reduce cost barriers of treatment and ensure Canadians do not experience undue financial hardship. Moreover, with more drugs available to treat a large number of complex and chronic health conditions, the CMA supports the development of a coordinated national approach to reduce polypharmacy among the elderly.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian pharmaceutical strategy that addresses both comprehensive coverage of essential medicines for all Canadians, and programs to encourage optimal prescribing and drug therapy.
Optimal care and support for older Canadians also depends on identifying, adapting, and implementing best practices in the care of seniors. PHAC’s Best Practices Portal22 is one noteworthy initiative, and the system needs to spread and scale best practices by leveraging and enhancing pan-Canadian resources that build capacity and improve performance in home care and other sectors.13
The CMA recommends that governments and other stakeholders support ongoing research to identify best practices in the care of seniors, and monitor the impact of various interventions on health outcomes and costs.
An environment and society that is “age friendly”
One of the primary goals of seniors policy in Canada is to promote the independence of older Canadians, avoiding costly institutionalization for as long as feasible. To help older Canadians successfully maintain their independence, governments and society must keep the social determinants of health in mind when developing and implementing policy that affects seniors. It is also important to eliminate discrimination against seniors and promote positive messaging around aging. An age-friendly society respects the experience, knowledge, and capabilities of its older members and accords them the same worth and dignity as it does other citizens.
Employment is also important for seniors who need or desire it. Many seniors are choosing to remain active in the workplace for a variety of reasons, such as adding to their financial resources or staying connected to a social network.23 The CMA recognizes the federal government’s support for seniors who opt to continue working. And, while many employers encourage older workers and accommodate their needs, employment may be difficult to find in workplaces that are unwilling to hire older workers.
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels and other partners give older Canadians access to opportunities for meaningful employment if they desire.
The physical environment, including the built environment, can help to promote seniors’ independence and successful, healthy aging. The World Health Organization defines an “age-friendly environment” as one that fosters health and well-being and the participation of people as they age.24 Age-friendly environments are accessible, equitable, inclusive, safe and secure, and supportive. They promote health and prevent or delay the onset of disease and functional decline. They provide people-centered services and support to enable recovery or to compensate for the loss of function so that people can continue to do the things that are important to them.24 These factors should be taken into consideration by those who design and build communities. For example, buildings should be designed with entrance ramps and elevators; sidewalks could have sloping curbs for walkers and wheelchairs; and frequent, accessible public transportation should be provided in neighbourhoods with large concentrations of seniors.
The CMA recommends that governments and communities take the needs of older Canadians into account when designing buildings, walkways, transportation systems, and other aspects of the built environment.
The CMA recognizes the federal government’s commitment to support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors’ population of tomorrow. The CMA’s recommendations in this submission can assist the government as it seeks to improve access to housing for seniors, enhance income security for vulnerable seniors, and improve the overall quality of life for seniors in ways that will help to advance inclusion, well-being, and the health of Canada’s aging population.
To maximize the health and well-being of older Canadians, and ensure their active engagement and independence for as long as possible, the CMA believes that the health care system, governments, and society should work with older Canadians to promote healthy aging, provide quality patient-centred health care and support services, and build communities that value Canadians of all ages.
1 Simpson C. Code Gridlock: Why Canada needs a national seniors strategy. Address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa by Dr. Christopher Simpson, President, Canadian Medical Association; 2014 Nov. 18; Ottawa, Ontario. Available: https://www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Code_Gridlock_final. pdf#search=code%20gridlock (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
2 North East Local Health Integration Network. HOME First shifts care of seniors to HOME. LHINfo Minute, Northeastern Ontario Health Care Update. Sudbury: The Network; 2011. Cited by Home Care Ontario. Facts & figures - publicly funded home care. Hamilton: Home Care Ontario; 2017 Jun. Available: http://www.homecareontario.ca/home-care-services/facts-figures/publiclyfundedhomecare (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
3 Conference Board of Canada. A cost-benefit analysis of meeting the demand for long-term care beds. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; Manuscript submitted for publication.
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Seniors in transition: exploring pathways across the care continuum. Ottawa: The Institute; 2017. Available: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/seniors-in-transition-report-2017-en.pdf (accessed 2017 Jun 30).
5 World Health Organization. Health Impact Assessment (HIA). The determinants of health. Available: http://www.who.int/hia/evidence/doh/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
6 Statistics Canada. Persons in low income (after-tax low income measure), 2012. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2014 Dec 10. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/141210/t141210a003-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Oct 17).
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friendly-environments/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).