HEALTH REFORM AT CRITICAL JUNCTURE Telegraph Journal June 21, 2012

Demographics Greying population at centre of need for change: minister

JENNIFER PRITCHETT


TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

If New Brunswick doesn't take steps now to deal with its aging population, seniors will occupy one hundred per cent of hospital beds in the province by the year 2021.

This information, contained in a new provincial government video, is a stark reminder of how truly grey New Brunswick has become and how demographics will inevitably shape health-care priorities in the years to come.

The government is hitting home the numbers, compiled in 2010 based on demographics and admission rates to long-term care facilities, as Minister of Health Madeleine Dubé tours the province for a series of public meetings on the future of health care.

The 13-minute video, posted on YouTube, is to be played at each of the nine meetings to emphasize for New Brunswickers the cost of health care in the province ($8.6 million per day or $3.1 billion per year) and how the system is unsustainable.

And in an effort to keep people healthy and out of the hospital, the video stresses the need for people to take control over their own health and to embrace active lifestyles.

Dubé said New Brunswick has to deal with its demographic challenges and has to improve its status as one of the most unhealthy provinces. (Her department's video also points to how 70 per cent of people here have a chronic disease.) To do that, she said, the government has a role to play and so does each New Brunswicker.

"We all know the population is aging and that there is more pressure on the health-care system,"she said, in an interview.

The latest census revealed how New Brunswick is one of Canada's oldest provinces with the country's second-largest proportion of people who are aged 65 and older, after Nova Scotia.

In this province, seniors make up 16.5 per cent of the population - 123,630 people.

The question is, the health minister said, what is the province going to do about the obstacles that come along with those demographics?

Dubé recently met with doctors in Grand Falls about the increasing number of seniors at the Grand Falls General Hospital, where 17 of the facility's 20 beds are used by patients waiting to get into a long-term care centre.

And while the situation may not be quite so bad in other hospitals across the province, it is a serious one.

According to both Horizon and Vitalité health networks, seniors classified as alternative level of care patients and waiting for a spot in a long-term care facility, take up about one quarter of all

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Long-term patients take up about quarter of all beds

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the hospital beds occupied in the province.

As of June 13, that number was 33 per cent at the Miramichi Regional Hospital, 27 per cent at the Upper River Valley Hospital in Perth-Andover, 27 per cent at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, 20 per cent at the Saint John Regional Hospital and 22 per cent at the Moncton Hospital.

At the Dr. Georges-L. Dumont Hospital in Moncton, seniors waiting for a spot in a long-term care centre are using 16 per cent of the hospital beds.

To deal with the challenges of delivering a public health-care system with an aging population, Dubé said, the government has its part to do in terms of increasing the number of long-term care beds and to improve community and family supports for seniors who want to stay in their own homes.

The government, she said, has already taken steps to tackle the issue with bolstering the number of long-term care beds through a nursing home strategy, which includes a 3B-level of specialized care homes that provide care outside the hospital system for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

As well, Dubé said the province needs a home-care strategy so that there are increased supports for families and communities.

"Nursing homes are for some, but some seniors want to stay longer in their homes,"she said.

Cécile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights, said fostering independence for seniors so that they are able to stay in their own homes is vital.

"What they need to do in New Brunswick is to make sure that we can afford to have home care,"she said.

Cassista said the government needs to do more than provide a "patchwork" of services that currently doesn't meet the needs of an aging population.

"I think we need to do better around how do we accommodate our aging population,"she said.

Seniors, said Cassista, are more than "just a number occupying a bed in a hospital."



According to both Horizon and Vitalité health networks, seniors classified as alternative level of care patients and waiting for a spot in a long-term care facility, take up about one quarter of all the hospital beds occupied in the province. PHOTO: SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES