Government leadership needed on home support for seniors: report

It is now harder than ever for B.C. seniors to access the basic home support services they need to remain at home, despite the B.C. Ministry of Health’s goal to support seniors to stay independent at home for as long as possible, says a report released in June by the Integrated Care Advocacy Group (ICA) and the BC Health Coalition (BCHC).

The report examines results from focus groups with the people most directly connected to the home support system – clients, family caregivers, family physicians, home care nurses and home support workers.

“A strong consensus emerged from the focus group findings: the home support system could be doing so much more to help seniors stay healthy and live independently,” said report author Marcy Cohen, a researcher with ICA and BCHC and adjunct SFU faculty member. “In the face of rising health costs and an aging population, investing in home support will maximize the health and wellbeing of seniors and the cost effectiveness of our health services.”

The number of seniors in B.C. has nearly doubled over the past 12 years, but the number of seniors receiving home support in 2013-14 was virtually identical to the number receiving home support in 2001-02.

Experiences from focus group participants revealed that the growing demand for services and limited resources has meant the role of home support workers has become very narrow. As a result, there is an increased burden on family caregivers and no ability for workers to provide the social support and basic services that are so vital to keeping seniors healthy.

“Our goal is to keep mom at home for as

long as possible but she needs more support than what she is getting,” said Susi Hill, a North Shore resident with an aging parent. “Simple things like regular baths and someone to check in on her and talk with her would make such a big difference but it’s really difficult to get the services.”

According to the report, home support agencies and health authorities have not been able to resolve the challenges in home support on their own.

“We urgently need leadership from the Ministry of Health to support early interventions and team based approaches in home support so that problems can be addressed before there is a full blown crisis and the seniors end up in emergency or admitted to hospital,” said Dr. Margaret McGregor, a family doctor at Mid Main Community Health Centre.

The report recommends the Ministry of Health provide the funding for home support required to increase staffing levels, teamwork and training to ensure that seniors can stay in their own homes for as long as possible.

Cohen said this funding should be based on a 10-year plan.

“The Ministry of Health needs to develop a plan to align new investments in B.C.’s home support delivery system with current research on what is needed to provide high quality, cost-effective services that are inclusive of family caregivers, support seniors to better manage their chronic physical and mental health challenges, and ensure that seniors can remain as independent and socially engaged as possible,” says Cohen.

Living Up to the Promise: Addressing the High Cost of Underfunding and Fragmentation in BC’s Home Support System is available on the ICA website: www.icadvocacy. ca