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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Centre Stage: Where Seniors and Caregivers Belong

Shirlee Sharkey is president and chief executive officer of Saint Elizabeth, a leading national health care organization. Saint Elizabeth delivers five million health care visits annually and employs almost six thousand people providing nursing, rehabilitation, personal support, research and consulting services.

Home care is in the spotlight as economics, aging and consumerism push care closer to home. A timely new report from the Health Council of Canada showcases a range of examples, from across Canada and internationally, of promising approaches in home care.  I agree we need to broaden the reach of these positive advances, shifting from pockets of innovation to more mainstream implementation.  At the same time, we must use the opportunities for care in the home to help the entire system leap forward by optimizing the strengths of individuals, families and communities. 

A quick win might be to simply increase funding, expecting more of the same to provide better results. And it will – to some degree. Existing home care services encompass everything from highly complex care, such as home dialysis and chemotherapy, to chronic disease management, to personal and home support. More funding will enable these services to reach more people.  However, this approach will keep us responding to people and their needs reactively, often after a life-changing event takes place, rather than proactively filling the gaps in an individual’s health journey. Other countries conduct needs assessments with seniors in their homes and communities after the age of 75 in order to get ahead of the care curve.

For optimal investment we need to shift the lens from providers to seniors and their families, bringing health care to where they are.  The greatest value of care in the home will come from supporting people where and how they need us, throughout their lives. 

To achieve this vision we need to deeply understand the health and life circumstances of individual seniors and their caregivers.  Only then can we offer choices that best suit their needs, preferences and environment.  Seniors and family caregivers will take centre stage, while we step back to provide the props and backdrops.

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