The Crisis of Living Longer
My last month has been filled with developing a greater understanding of the health care crisis we are experiencing because people are living longer. At both the personal level with our mother, and the political level, the reality of the impact on our health care system of an aging population has been brought into sharp clarity for me.
Like many people of my generation who are “young seniors,” my sister and I are caring for my mother who is an old senior. She was born in 1916, the Year of the Dragon and as this Year of the Dragon arrived my mother had a heart attack. This is her third major health crisis in the past four years.
As in the past, at the outset, we set up a routine to have someone with her in the hospital 24 hours a day. We do this so that she will not be alone. I talked to her frequently about the risk of her dying and of course, she was scared. The other reason we spend so much time in the hospital, is that we are concerned about the level of medical intervention: the tests ordered and the medications given. The job of doctors is to save lives and thankfully even in the face of impending death they will often try and try again.
Our job is to make our mother’s life as comfortable as possible. Sometimes this is in direct contradiction to what the doctors are recommending. A good example would be the issue of food. I think that if our mother is dying she should damn well eat what she wants and so we feed it to her. Her most recent request has been for champagne. And finally, we are there to provide the hands on care that the overburdened staff cannot – bathing, assistance with eating, and encouragement to exercise. As one frantic nurse said to me as I was helping my mother eat: “I would help her but I have six other patients to feed.”
This long term care bed shortage results in a backup in all aspects of the acute care system.
After three weeks of providing fairly constant care, our mother is definitely recovering – but now comes the next dilemma. She is in the queue with the other approximately 1000 seniors waiting for a long term care bed. And that brings us to the political.
The nature of the political decisions which have led to this long term care crisis was highlighted at the Beyond Acute Care conference (www.beyondacutecare.ca) I recently attended. Over the past decade, public long term care beds have been converted to private assisted living facilities and few new long term care beds have been created. The apparent plan was that corporations would step into the gap and build facilities. This has not happened, nor has the government built adequate new public facilities. Thus, there is long queue and our mother is in that queue occupying a hospital bed.
This long term care bed shortage results in a backup in all aspects of the acute care system. Hospital beds are full, so patients are waiting in emergency departments. Emergency departments are then caring for patients who should be admitted. When a new emergency patient arrives, they wait with their EMS attendants who are then tied up in the hospital until their patient is admitted. This then leads to a crisis in emergency response time. This particular issue is receiving much attention in the news currently.
We can all thank poor planning on behalf of our politicians for this crisis in health care. When we and our family members are waiting for an appropriate long term care bed, we can point to bad decisions and poor planning. Privatization of care of the vulnerable is never a solution and inevitably leads to higher costs in the name of profit making. We urgently need more publicly managed long term care beds. If we start planning and building today, in three years our health care crisis will begin to improve. Without such immediate action we will all continue to suffer.
Sherry lives in McCauley and is a block carrier with the paper.