Friday, January 27, 2006

Few long-term beds, growing waits, especially for Interior, North

VICTORIA - If you’re worried about about two-tier health care, take a look at the plight of seniors outside the Lower Mainland.

The average wait for a long-term care bed in the North and Interior was almost three months in December. That’s four times as long as the wait in the Lower Mainland.

The cause is simple - the government’s failure to honour its original promise to add 5,000 new long-term care beds by the end of this year.

Only 440 beds were added in the entire province last year, according to Health Minister George Abbott. Since 2001 only 607 beds have been added.

That's a 2.5-per-cent increase in the number of spaces over almost five years. In the same period the population over 75 has increased by 16 per cent.

The result is predictable, the consequences often devastating for the seniors and their families. People who need long-term care beds wind up in hospital acute care beds, causing cancelled surgeries and jammed emergency rooms.

The problem is worst for the Interior Health Authority, where the average wait was 88 days. The Northern Health Authority was little better, at 80 days. Vancouver Island seniors faced an average wait of 56 days.

But in the Fraser Valley Health Authority, the wait was barely three weeks. In Vancouver-Coastal, it was 19 days. (It is easier to place people in densely populated areas, where there are several options within a reasonable distance. In much of the province the nearest alternative is hours away.)

Abbott said the times are better than four years ago, when seniors could spend more than a year on a waiting list.
Unfortunately that’s a meaningless comparison. The old system encouraged people to put their names on a waiting list long before they required care. Under the improved model, the wait begins when a doctor has agreed care is needed.

So how do the waits in December compare with a year earlier? The health ministry says it doesn’t know right now.

But last February Interior Health Authority chairman Alan Dolman reported that the wait was down to 60 days. Since then it has climbed by 50 per cent to 88 days.
That’s not surprising. By the end of last year the Interior Health Authority had seven-per-cent fewer long-term care beds than it had in 2001.

Have things improved? The government will say 440 beds were added across the province last year, but the number for each health authority is another secret. The health ministry wants to release that next month, when it can provide “context.”

The government’s explanation for its broken promise is that the existing long-term care beds was in worse shape than it expected. Improving those spaces used up the money that would have gone for new beds.

And Abbott says that by the end of this year there will be 2,900 additional spaces, and the government is on track to keep its new promise of 5,000 beds by 2008.

But it’s been a cruel delay, and the shortage has meant great hardship.

Some seniors can manage while they wait. Others receive the best support that sometimes overwhelmed families are able to provide.

And others end up in acute care hospital beds, where they often do very badly. They don’t get needed care and activity, their sleep and living patterns are disrupted and their conditions worsen far more quickly than if an appropriate place was available. It is a a terrible thing for a family to watch.

And since 10 to 20 per cent of hospital beds are occupied by people who have nowhere else to go, surgeries must be cancelled and emergency rooms fill with patients who can’t be admitted. Most communities across B.C. experienced the problem firsthand at some point last year.

It’s good to support seniors in their homes, and provide a range of care.

But when they need a place and more support, they should know that it will be there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The idea of people staying in their homes seems like a good one. But without funding for support workers, day care people, modifying living spaces , not all at the home owners expense.
My father in law begged the family to let him go home. He wanted to eventually die at home. They brought him home hired workers to monitor him, as his wife wasn't able to do so. The government was off the hook for any expenses. So government always say, you are better off at home. Tell that to a family that had to do the caregiving 24 hours a day seven days a week. Doctor's seldom do home visits. People die saving the government money. what a way to end a life after working for about 40 years supporting governemnts .that stop supporting you.
The old story of putting the old and sick ones out on the ice wating for a thaw, is not that far from the truth. It's sick.