The future of healthcare for seniors

 

Now that the so-called “age wave” has begun crashing on society’s shores we are all reexamining the implications this demographic shift will have on the provision of healthcare, particularly with respect to senior citizens. Given that public healthcare in more and more jurisdictions is beginning to hit a wall that no amount of funding will breach, it is incumbent on us to come up with alternatives to public healthcare in the provision of long-term care for seniors.


It is clear that long-term care for seniors is not a real priority to most governments, given the resources that are allocated to this sector versus, say, resources allocated to prisons. For instance, in the province of Ontario, government-subsidization of care for seniors in long term care facilities appears to be a mere afterthought. The province recently raised the daily food subsidy for seniors from $7.15 to $7.31 per day. This amount is intended to cover breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and all beverages for the residents of such facilities. By comparison, the food allowance for a prisoner at an Ontario penitentiary is currently more than double that. In addition, the province has managed to find money to pay drug-addicted inmates to attend rehabilitation sessions.


The number of seniors in society is increasing dramatically for two reasons. The first is that baby-boomers, which comprise the largest single demographic in our society, are beginning to reach their 60s. Gradually, this demographic will account for close to 50% of the entire population within the next two decades. In addition, improvements in healthcare and the choice of a healthier lifestyle will ensure that people live longer. The average age of esidents in most long-term care facilities right now is at about 87. Given the above advances in healthcare and lifestyle, there is little doubt that this average will increase by a good 10 years, if not more.


So what are the alternatives? There really isn’t an easy answer to this question, as the thinking behind the policies that have created this dilemma really hasn’t changed over the past decades, nor does it appear too many policy makers are even aware that there is a looming problem. But let’s say that meaningful solutions will be found when we view the problem through a different paradigm. Jim Scott, the visionary developer of Serenity Care for Seniors, Inc. has looked at the problem through a different paradigm and devised an elegant solution with the concept of foster care for seniors. I met and wrote about Jim back in the fall of 2008, as I was greatly impressed by his concept.


Other concepts could include family cooperatives that work in association with government agencies to provide long-term care for small groups of seniors living in regular homes. The idea being that family members of the residents as well as individuals within the community volunteer on a rotating basis to care for the aged residents. The up side of such a plan would be that seniors would not be stigmatized with having to be institutionalized and would enjoy a higher level of care than that provided in a long term care facility. The down side, of course would be increased cost and a limitation of access to qualified nursing staff. But even that down side isn’t insurmountable as most jurisdictions have a community care organization already in place to provide some level of care to those in need.


I believe that the best solution doesn’t necessarily entail any one answer, but a melding of a number of different concepts. It’s clear to me that larger and ever more extensive nursing homes are not the answer, given that these tend to breed blind and unbending bureaucracies exacerbated by employees that fall under the auspices of public sector unions. That’s why long-term care has become so prohibitively expensive over the past decades and has yielded less than stellar outcomes.


If we are going to meet the challenges this demographic shift will pose, it’s important that we look beyond what we currently know and explore options that focus on the health and wellness of those being served, rather than looking for the most expedient way to make the problem go away.


Written by Klaus Rohrich on Saturday, 30 January 2010

 

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