Grey power puts crimp in health-care system

The Canadian Medical Association says Canada’s seniors are not getting the health care they deserve – “not even close.”

By Brian Kieran

Look around folks. There are more of us than there is of them. Or so it seems when I’m elbowing my way to the Geritol section of the pharmacy.

Is it finally the dawn of Grey Power? Or are more of us being let out unsupervised? More of the latter, I fear.

In fact, the ranks of B.C. seniors aged 65 and over are growing four times faster than the ranks of working-aged citizens age 25 to 64.

Business Council of B.C. chief policy officer Jock Finlayson calls that “an extraordinary and unprecedented development.” He should know; he’s one of us.

A BCBC report indicates the province currently has about 31 people, 65 and over, for every 100 working-aged persons. In 10 years that climbs to 41 seniors for every 100 working age BCers.

In 15 years on Vancouver Island the numbers look like this: Victoria — 57 seniors per 100 working age citizens (37 now); Comox Valley – 61 per 100 (45 now); Cowichan Valley – 64 per 100 (42 now). In the Kootenay-Boundary country the ratio rises to 77 per 100 (45 now) and on the Sunshine Coast it is a staggering 80 per 100 (52 now).

Finlayson says this older population will put additional pressure on public expenditures while the capacity of the government to raise revenue is diminished with a smaller fraction of the citizenry working.

That brings me to the most troubling implication of this rapidly aging demographic: Mounting pressure on health care services.

The Canadian Medical Association says Canada’s seniors are not getting the health care they deserve – “not even close.”

The CMA has decided to do something about it. It is turning this glaring hole in the national social fabric into a federal election issue. The association has launched an “Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy” with the catch phrase – “Don’t leave seniors out in the cold.”

CMA president Dr. Chris Simpson says: “Our health-care system is still very much like it was in 1960, which was built for people who were younger, who had acute disease. Today, of course, we have a landscape that is one of chronic disease. People are older and they have different kinds of illnesses than they had in 1960. But, we still have hospitals set up to deliver on their acute care mandate.”

Dr. Anna Reid, past president of the CMA, says: “With the increase now of Old Age Security (eligibility) from 65 to 67 we are anticipating an increase in the poverty rates of seniors. We are actually seeing an increase in the poverty rates of elderly women over the last several years and that’s very concerning.”

The alliance will be working until Election Day this year to make seniors care a ballot issue in the federal election campaign and to persuade the major political parties to include a national seniors strategy in their campaign platforms.

Simpson says: “We estimate $2 billion is spent every year just warehousing seniors in hospitals simply because they have nowhere else to go. They are waiting to go home because there are not enough home care resources. They are waiting for long term care facilities that are filled. As a result the entire health care system suffers.”

The alliance wants the party winning the election to convene a meeting of the provincial and territorial premiers to discuss seniors care within six months of the vote.

In support of this campaign the CMA has launched a new website “DemandAPlan.ca.” I suggest you visit it and add your voice to the call for a national seniors’ strategy in the run up to polling day in October.

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Brian Kieran is a journalist and communications specialist.