Opinion Editorial

Time for a national seniors’ strategy

By Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to start the election campaign early, it signalled the beginning of one of the longest — and most expensive — campaigns of our time. There is no good reason to jump-start the process in the dog days of summer; it’s the last thing most people want to hear about, think about or talk about right now.

However, perhaps it’s an opportunity to move the needle on an important issue: the plight of Canada’s seniors, who are now navigating a health-care system created more than 50 years ago, when the average age of Canadians was 27. Today, the average age is 47, yet the system has only marginally adapted to meet the needs of our aging population.

And this is a problem that isn’t going to get better. According to the Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy (ANSS), 14% of Canada’s population is older than 65, but seniors account for almost half of health costs. By 2036, it is projected more than 25% of Canadians will be older than 65 and, by then, will account for 62% of this nation’s health costs.

Backed by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), the ANSS is calling for a national seniors’ strategy that involves all levels of government, with Ottawa playing a lead role. The alliance will call on whichever party forms the next federal government to bring together the provincial and territorial premiers to discuss seniors’ care within six months of taking office. Their ultimate goal is to have a national seniors’ strategy in place by 2019.

While the economy, income splitting, Senate reform and other issues are likely to continue to dominate and shape the campaign, how a prospective government will handle the impending grey tsunami in the health-care system — that is likely also to be impacted by the retirements of thousands of family doctors who have massive practices — will be more important than any of those other issues to many of us in the months and years ahead.

The reality is Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, like most in this country, must focus much of its resources and physical space to seniors who have complicated, often chronic diseases, suffer from dementia and require specialized, expensive care. According to the CMA, the cost to care for someone in a hospital is $1,000 a day. In comparison, it costs about $130 a day for long-term care and about $55 a day for home care. According to the ANSS and the CMA, about $2.3 billion a year could be put to better use in our health-care system if we invested in long-term and community care.

Our seniors should not be warehoused in hospitals, handcuffing a system limping along a path charted before many of us were born. They deserve better care in addition to treatments and facilities that are better suited to their ages and conditions.

Seniors built this country. Their blood, sweat and tears have shaped a nation and it’s time to honour their heritage by ensuring their future is one in which they can access the health-care system and receive the treatment and care they deserve.

Canada needs a national seniors’ strategy and our federal politicians need to step up to the plate and tell us how they are going to deliver one.

— Dave Dawson


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