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Public rallies behind seniors strategy at Bruyère roundtable

Ottawa (Oct. 8, 2015) – Public supporters, as well as staff, patients and residents of one of Bruyère’s facilities in Ottawa participated in the latest roundtable discussion held by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to discuss the need for a national seniors strategy.

The session started with a welcome from Melissa Donskov, director of the Bruyère Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation, and was followed by a presentation from Dr. Peter Tanuseputro, a family physician and public health specialist.

Tanuseputro highlighted some of the challenges of caring for a large senior population in our current hospital-based health care system.  Seniors currently represent 14.6 per cent of the population, and account for almost half of health care costs, he said. The population of Canadians age 65 and older is expected to double in the next 20 years, putting increasing pressure on the system.

Bruyère focuses on providing high-quality, evidence-based health care and services for the vulnerable and medically complex, particularly for those requiring sub-acute, geriatric or palliative care.  The need for improving access for high-quality palliative care for all Canadians was a key element discussed at the roundtable.

Tanuseputro pointed to his own research when discussing end-of-life care. He said that when polled, 80 per cent of seniors said they would prefer to die at home but of the 264,755 deaths that occurred between 2010 and 2012 in this age group, 54 per cent died in a hospital.

Instead of “warehousing” seniors in hospitals when they are nearing the end of their life, Tanuseputro said they would benefit much more personal, direct care in the community or at home.

Dionne Sinclair, Complex Continuing Care program director at Saint-Vincent Hospital, stressed the importance of preventative care and advanced-care planning. “We have to give people the tools to healthy aging to say, ‘you might want to quit smoking, you might want to exercise and you might want to get a group of friends.’”

These preventive approaches can occur throughout the spectrum of life, not just at the later stages, she said.

Sinclair is also trying to create a discussion between hospitals and long-term care facilities to help seniors find affordable care outside the hospital.

“Right now we are paying to keep them in a very expensive hospital bed”, she said. “[Seniors] are waiting for an assisted-living bed but they can’t afford it.”

Tanuseputro reiterated this point, saying that change will require a deeper look at where resources are allocated today.   

“A big part of this will be shifting care from the hospitals into the community,” he said.

He says before starting to look at funding, Canadians must first change their perception of death and become more comfortable talking about a patient or family member passing away.

“One of the biggest issues is the lack of recognition when the end of life is approaching. Doctors, patients, everyone feels reticent to talk about it,” he said.

Roundtable discussions such as the one at Bruyère have taken place across Canada over the past few months as a part of the CMA’s continuous push for political action on seniors care. Public response has been strong as Canadians have come out to share their views and experiences with seniors care and how to improve it.