Waits triple for long-term care, watchdog says

TheStar.com – Ontario/healthzone
June 3, 2010.   Theresa Boyle, HEALTH REPORT

Ontario seniors are waiting three times longer than they did five years ago to get into long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, warns a report by a health-care watchdog group made public Thursday.

Waits are also too long for urgent cancer surgeries and treatment in emergency departments, according to an annual report from the Ontario Health Quality Council, an arms-length agency funded by the province.

The average wait for a long-term care bed today is 105 days.

Council chair Lyn McLeod blamed the waits on bottlenecks in the health system, explaining that a roadblock in one area can cause a backlog in another.

“With so many aspects of our health system linked together, if one part becomes log-jammed, the impact ripples upstream,” she said.

For example, long waits for long-term care beds are one reason why 16 per cent of hospital beds are taken up by people who don’t need to be there. These are typically frail elderly people who are ready to be discharged, but have no place to go.

The long-term care waits are also part of the reason that only 53 per cent of urgent cancer surgeries are done within the recommended two-week time frame, explained Ben Chan, CEO of the council.

“One factor may be that patients requiring complicated surgery often need timely post-surgery access to an intensive-care unit bed,” he said.

The ripple effect also makes its way to the emergency department where waits exceed recommended targets for 25 per cent of patients. In fact, six per cent of people leave the ER before being seen, “likely because they were tired of waiting,” the report states.

But adding more long-term care homes isn’t necessarily the solution, according to the council. Curiously, the agency found that a quarter of those waiting for admission to long-term care facilities such as nursing homes have lighter needs and could be cared for in alternative settings, if they existed.

The council suggested that Ontario emulate Lethbridge, Alta., in providing publicly funded options for assisted living and supportive housing for patients who require less care than provided by a long-term care home.

Health Minister Deb Matthews said she takes the panel’s findings seriously.

“We’re absolutely committed to doing better and that’s why I really welcome the OHQC (Ontario Health Quality Council) report,” she said.

“You know, I think the fact we’re now measuring wait times, that we’re really trying to drive those results and make some improvements (proves) we’re committed to doing more.”

With files from Robert Benzie

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