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Failure to address seniors care threatens system: CMA President

The Canadian health care system – with its universal access – will become unsustainable unless there’s a national strategic rethink about how seniors care is provided in our nation.

The warning came from Canadian Medical Association President Chris Simpson in a key address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa.

Simpson discussed why it is so urgent to tackle inadequate seniors care in this country by making the link between inappropriate care and how this has a ripple effect across the whole system.

He explained how his hospital in Kingston, ON, was gridlocked for 18 days in October because the institution was filled to capacity. He noted this situation has become chronic at many hospitals across Canada, and “increasingly gridlock is becoming the norm.”

One significant reason for gridlock is the inability to move seniors who no longer require acute care – those known as alternate level care (ALC) patients – into more appropriate care environments.

Simpson said an estimated 15% of acute care beds are occupied by ALC patients. “They are trapped. We are warehousing them.

“We need to step up investment in long-term care and invest much, much more in services for home and community care.”

He blamed this situation on the failure of policy-makers to adapt the Canadian health care system to address the fact that many patients are now older and have chronic conditions.

The solution, he said, is not to spend more money but to “spend smarter.”

Simpson reiterated a theme that has been dominant since he assumed the role of CMA president in August, calling for development of a national seniors care strategy involving all levels of government.

While adoption of a robust seniors care strategy would allow this era to be remembered as the dawn of healthy and active aging, he said failure to do so would mean there is danger of it being remembered instead as “the age of staggering health costs.”

Simpson said there is a way out of the looming sustainability crisis, while giving all Canadians the health care they need, “if we start thinking differently and strategically.”

He said the CMA continues to believe a committed federal government is the necessary ingredient and is seeking support from physicians, stakeholder groups like the Royal Canadian Legion, forward-thinking institutions, media and “public officials willing to listen.”

Simpson closed by referencing Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare in Canada.

“Fifty years ago Tommy Douglas showed us a better way. That is the kind of national vision we need now. We must act.”

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