The ‘grey tsunami’ threatens to overwhelm health care system

To the Expositor:

In a very informative column from the January 7, 2012 edition of the Sudbury Star, writer Mike Whitehouse quotes a most appropriate new buzz word to describe the oncoming surge of the baby boomers as they descend on the Ontario health and long term care system. The figures preceeding this imminent crisis are mind-boggling at this point in time (shortly pre-crisis). The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care estimates the province-wide waiting list for long term care beds at 25,680. This is a 5.1 percent increase from 2009. Right now, the average wait time for someone in hospital is 105 days and for someone at home it’s 173 days. In 2008, it cost $1.433 billion for Ontario to provide assistance to the frail and elderly. This sweeping trend of need for those who can no longer look after themselves is backed up by the fact that by 2031, the number of seniors will double and the number of needed long-term care beds is expected to more than double!

Yes, writer Mike Whitehouse has aptly named this on-coming crisis. He has dubbed it “the grey tsunami.” The grey tsunami will cause serious problems to our health care system as “long-term care patients” will jam up hospitals while waiting on LTC beds. It is already happening as shown by headlines such as “hospitals stuck with 100 LTC patients—surgeries cancelled over bed shortages.”

Not to far away in Sudbury, the city is once again under a crisis 1A designation by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This allows hospital (LTC) patients the first crack at LTC beds that come available. They take priority over all patients at home for three weeks out of every month. On top of being put on 1A again, Sudbury is also still housing a large number of LTC patients awaiting a bed at the old Memorial Site, this after vowing over a year ago that this would no longer be happening and that the city would now have enough LTC beds to handle the demand.

It has become very clear that this province and the municipalities have chosen to ignore the projected figures that they were made aware of many years ago. They are nowhere near to being in a position to be able to deal with this crisis when it hits its peak!

Even today, right here at home, some elected officials, municipal councillors and board members refuse to work at moving forward on incentives to improve and increase services for the elderly and LTC patients of Manitoulin Island. In the article entitled ‘Manor Continuum of Care Plan on hold’ on page 3 of the February 1 edition of The Expositor we see again examples of these negative attitudes like Manor board member Penti Palonen who seems to constantly be using any excuse he can find to stop progress on moving forward to create needed living spaces for our frail, elderly and LTC patients. He and municipal councillors who have clearly stated in the past that they would never increase taxes for more financial support for Centennial Manor, should really start to wake up! I would be very interested to hear these naysayers’ opinion on where they intend to put all the elderly, LTC patients and especially the Alzheimers and dementia patients when we eventually run out of beds—and we will!

It is probably way too late to avert this crisis, but at least if the province and municipalities start to put a priority on creating new living spaces for frail elderly and LTC patients with an extra emphasis on specialized units (like the new 64 bed lodge at Sudbury’s Pioneer Manor) for dementia and Alzheimers patients, the severity may be lessened somewhat.

Municipalities seem to have countless hours, energy and dollars to spend on issues like windmill building permit fees, engineering consultants and the never ending drainage issue, lawyers and consultants to precipitate the municipalities will to become involved in First Nation-provincial government business and the countless economic development proposed ventures and for the majority of these issues we never see any sustainable result. Put that together with all the conferences and courses, and it really makes you wonder if they have their priorities straight!

The municipal and provincial politicians can either start to deal with this ongoing issue now or face the consequences, but I have a feeling that, as usual, when things get out of control they will all be standing around with frowns on their faces saying “how did this ever happen?”

I would urge everyone to contact your MPP and your municipal ward councillor and ask them what their plans are to deal with this up-coming crisis and when they will be beginning plans on short and long-term solutions to ensure adequate numbers of living spaces for our frail elderly and long-term care patients.

Welcome to the golden years!

Greg Young

Big Lake