Yukon needs a better plan for long-term care

The government can find solutions if it has the will. Does it have the will?

Truska Gorrell | Special to the News

We are short of hospital and long-term care beds and need more home care. Sending elders all over the territory is hardly a great and compassionate solution to these issues.

There has been, both federally and territorially, little understanding of the demographics that have been indicating a grey tsunami of older adults is coming and will place a great strain on our health-care system. My mother was in the Whitehorse hospital 15 years ago, and even then there were patients like her, who had to wait for long term placement.

This is not an issue that just arrived today.

The situation pits patients against patients. This hospital is an acute care facility, and yes, if our territory continues to grow, it will soon be too small yet again. Macauley Lodge will immediately move a huge number of patients to the Whistle Bend continuing care facility, and more long-term options will need to be made available once again.

The new government said in its recent handout that they will “work with Yukoners to promote aging-in-place and a full spectrum of care, both public and private.” What is that plan?

We all look at the clear systemic failure of past governments and we can, hopefully, learn from it. Let’s look to the future realistically, recognizing that Whistle Bend will not be all things to all people, and that it is at least a year away from opening.

Let’s find some immediate solutions so that no fragile elder is pressured into going to a community where they have no supports and their family has to drive hundreds of miles to visit. At this time the hospital is expanding and I hear that there can be space for more patient beds either in the old emergency room space or above the new ER if the will exists to provide them and staff them. Is the will there?

Every person who can age in place will leave a room for those who do not have that option. Surely there can be more long-term beds where patients can stay in their home community. More home care services could perhaps be made available in the communities.

Could there be something similar to foster homes for elders? There is a program in British Columbia called Choices in Supports for Independent Living — CSIL — that allows people who need institutional care to be allotted an amount of government funding, dependent on their disability, so that they can hire their own home care workers and as a result leave another facility bed open. That saves a bed, costs government less, keeps someone at home, and provides work for helpers. My friend in B.C. says it is an amazing program. There are Yukoners who know of this excellent program. Maybe only a few people would qualify, but that would leave some beds available to others.

Surely no one wants to see vulnerable elders paying the price for a poorly planned and managed system. Government found 10 beds last year after Dr. David Storey explained the bed shortage through his letter to the media. This government can also find solutions if it has the will. Does it have the will?

Through enhanced home care service, 24/7 where needed, some patients and families can get the appropriate support they need. Caregiver burnout is a pretty significant danger when the supports are insufficient. We then have even more people needing care. Perhaps the concept of a “respite hotel” as used in other provinces would enhance respite care and ensure other beds in institutions are left open.

Finally, I would like to say kudos to the government as it does ensure that respite is available for families who are overwhelmed. Kudos also for the funding government gives to the Line of Life Yukon, which allows Yukoners to age in place. Kudos to the many good and caring people working in the hospital and home care and long-term care system, who are working to improve the status quo.

Let’s sort this out immediately so the Yukoners needing surgery can get it, the elders needing long-term care can get it without fearing a trip to an unwanted destination, and we can have a plan in place that respects all of us, young and old alike.

Truska Gorrell is a 50-year resident of Whitehorse and frequent community volunteer.

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