Friday, April 24, 2015

"Demographic Tsunamai" Looming in Canada's Health Care System as Population Ages

By Michael J Morris

UPDATED! Just over six years ago I was standing in the security line at the Greyhound station in Calgary waiting to be cleared to board the bus to Cranbrook after a quick trip to Foothills Medical Centre a few days earlier by air ambulance. I had just been discharged from Foothills  and was anxious to get home where my cat Buckwheat had been looked after by friends for the previous 10 days.

I struck up a conversation with the lady behind me in the line, and after telling her where I had been, the conversation turned to the challenges facing the health care system. It turned out that she was a retired registered nurse who had also sat on health councils designed to provide input to the government from the people. Anyway, we chatted for a bit, and agreed that a national conversation by Canadians was needed on the health care system.

Now, in the midst of a federal election campaign, Canadians should insist that the future of health care is an issue and all the parties clearly state their position.

My experience at Foothills and at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital  brought into clear focus that while I received excellent care in both hospitals, that may not always be the case as they are stretched to capacity, and packed with patients whose average age would be at least 60 by my unofficial survey. I wandered about the units I was in as soon as I was mobile and did an anecdotal survey on people's ages -- nothing scientific. And, the baby boomers are now starting to hit 65..

Let me be real clear on one thing. At Foothills which is a huge high level medical centre and at EKRH which is a regional hospital in a small community, I was so fantastically impressed by the professionalism and dedication to provide excellent patient care from doctors, nurses and all other staff despite how busy they were. Nobody ever lost his/her friendly attitude in either place.

To me, the looming health care crisis is the fault of successive federal and provincial governments, and to some extent municipal governments too, who have failed us as Canadian citizens by looking at our health care as a cost item in a budget rather than an investment in our well being. They knew the population was aging. They knew that health care professionals would be retiring. They simply failed to invest over the years and make necessary changes to ensure the viability of the health care system with a focus on patient care.

 Angela Mulholland of CTV News has  reported that "Most Canadians think this country needs a national strategy for seniors health care, believing such a plan would help keep seniors in their homes as long as possible, according to a new poll released by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA)."
According to a recent Ipsos Reid poll that was released along with the CMA's annual report card on health issues. It found that nine out of 10 Canadians feel that the entire health care system could be improved by keeping seniors at home as long as possible, to help lighten the load on hospitals and nursing homes. Mullholland reported.
It also revealed that only 37 per cent of Canadians have confidence in the ability of the current system to care for our aging population. 
As well, three-quarters of respondents said they were concerned for themselves about whether they would have access to high-quality health care in their retirement years.
Almost 80 per cent said they were concerned about having access to an acute care system, such as good quality hospital care, while almost an equal number worried about finding home care and long-term care, her report noted.
The CMA President Dr. Anna Reid told CTV News that  all levels of government need to act to address “the demographic tsunami” that is heading toward the health care system as aging baby boomers hit their most vulnerable years.
“The anxiety Canadians have about health care in their so-called golden years is both real and well-founded,” Reid said in a statement. “Let there be no doubt that a national strategy for seniors health care should be a federal priority.”
I was most fortunate to receive the care I did but four years later, here was a major report out where none other than the president of the CMA  predicted that a "demographic tsunamai" is looming in our health care system. The next time I may not be so lucky, and it will not be the fault of the dedicated professionals who do their best in a health care system unprepared to meet the challenges.
For example, when the paramedics, who by the way were super, wheeled me in to the Emergency entrance at Foothills, I thought I was on the set of the television drama "ER". How they ever manage on a daily basis to get everyone where they are supposed to go for treatment is really beyond me.
Without being melodramatic, I had this vision of being left alone in a hallway and become one of those horror stories we read about -- but the paramedics stayed right with me until I was in a bed in the emergency ward.
When I suggested a national conversation on the future of heath care in Canada, I did not mean another Romanow type commission or something run by the politicians. I am suggesting a grass roots chat among Canadians where they share their ideas, experiences and concerns about health care and let the politicians hear our voices. Perhaps it could all be done online with sites established where people could leave their comments. It can be by posting comments to candidates in all parts of Canada on Facebook and Twitter for starters.
Sadly, I have concluded that if we leave it to the provincial and federal governments, and municipal governments too,, it will be more of the same. For starters in a small way I invite you to leave comments here or email me at 

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