‘Enormous pressure’: Ontario’s spiking senior population and its impact on home care

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‘Enormous pressure’ expected in Ontario home care due to high growth of senior population
A McMaster University study is suggesting more investments in home care across Ontario will likely be needed over the next three years to attract and retain staff to hold off a "seniors tsunami." – Feb 20, 2024

Ontario will need close to another 7,000 health specialists to accommodate an aging population likely to seek more home care over the next five years, according to researchers.

A McMaster University team that co-produced a study for Home Care Ontario is predicting “dire consequences” with the province’s senior population amid an explosion in numbers over the next five years aggravated by dwindling numbers in the home care workforce.

The examination from the Hamilton learning facility’s Centre for Health Economics & Policy Analysis division insists the over-65 and over-75  demographics will grow at faster annual rates than at any time in the next two decades and put “enormous pressure” on the health-care system.

It estimates a 23-per cent increase or additional 650,000 people in the over-65 population with those over the age of 75 growing by 27 per cent or 350,000 people by 2029 respectively.

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“Population growth of those over age 65, and especially over age 75, combined with high average healthcare costs puts enormous pressure on the healthcare system and provincial finances,” Dr. Arthur Sweetman and Dr. Boris Kralj jointly concluded in their study.

It estimates around 6,800 personal support workers (PSWs) in the home care sector will need to be added by 2028 just to maintain current levels of service currently provided across municipalities.

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Sue VanderBent, CEO of Home Care Ontario, suggests it means about $411 million will need to be invested every year for three years to attract and retain home care staff to hold off a “seniors tsunami.”

“We have to keep these staff here, working in the home care sector … because we know that’s where the need is going to be huge,” VanderBent said.

She went on to say more PSWs will also be needed for long-term care homes and hospitals but didn’t have specific numbers.

Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of the seniors advocacy group Can Age, submits “people are not necessarily attracted to the profession” anymore due to the job “getting harder” and “low wages.”

“It’s hard to recruit if you have heavy needs, hard workload, low pay and less job security than you would want in terms of your benefits and pensions,” Tamblyn Watts says.

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“We need to rethink entirely what senior care means, and that means we need to pay for the kind of work that we want to have, show up as the type of care that seniors deserve.”

Tamblyn Watts says there are models in other provinces that could work in Ontario including that rolled out in Quebec during the pandemic that provided paid training salaries around $50,000, plus pensions and benefits.

“And within some months, you know, every seat was filled and they had a whole new cohort of care workers in Quebec,” Tamblyn Watts recalls.

The province estimates some 730,000 Ontario families require home care each year with about 60,000 workers helping that need annually.

“The vast majority of the people that we look after are older people, but we also look after people of mid-age with chronic illnesses like, musculoskeletal issues or rheumatoid arthritis or onsets of cancer,” said VanderBent.

The McMaster report indicates the investment may cut costs since the average home care visit checks in at around $100 a day compared to an emergency department visit which hits an average of $325.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health says planned home care investments over the next three years will come to $1 billion which includes nearly $300 million in 2024 to support contract rate increases to stabilize the workforce.

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Also, $300 million will be put into launching careers in long-term care homes, the community care sector and others in the health-care workforce.

“Last year alone our government has added over 17,000 new nurses and thousands of PSWs to the health-care workforce,”  Hannah Jensen, deputy director of communications for the Ministry of Health, said.

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