What became of the plan for aging at home?
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Tue Sep 27 2011. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
In his first term as Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty made a firm commitment to Ontario’s seniors: “If you require care, want it in your home and that care costs less than sending you to a hospital or nursing home, we will make sure you get it.”
His health minister, George Smitherman, announced a $1.3 billion plan to expand Ontario’s home-care program. But the money never reached seniors. They still had to beg for one or two weekly home-care visits.
In his second term, McGuinty pledged to boost home-care funding by 33 per cent.
Smitherman announced a $700 million Aging at Home Strategy, assuring seniors they would get the support they needed to stay out of hospitals and nursing homes. “Our goal is to open a whole world of opportunity for seniors that will offer new lifestyle choices that are reflective of how Ontario’s seniors truly want to live,” he said. Two years later, he topped the plan up to $1.1 billion.
But the number of hours of home care available — even if a senior had a fiercely tenacious advocate — shrank.
Now, as he seeks a third term, McGuinty is promising to “invest a lot” in home care. “There will be a dramatic improvement as far as seniors are concerned,” he told the Star’s editorial board.
The Liberal platform calls for an additional three million hours of home care.
Asked what happened to his government’s Aging at Home Strategy, McGuinty looked uncomfortable but told the truth.
The health ministry had diverted some of the money to hospitals. (Although they had signed “accountability agreements” guaranteeing balanced budgets, many hospitals ran multi-million-dollar deficits.)
It won’t happen again, McGuinty stressed. “This time, it (home-care funding) won’t be gobbled up by the health system.”
Moreover, he added, a Liberal government would appoint a health-care coordinator, he said, “so when my mom is discharged from the hospital rather than being discharged into a confusing system where it is really hard for her to move from her family doctor, to the specialist, to the rehab to whatever the heck else makes up our great complicated system today, she’ll have somebody who will help guide her through it.”
In addition to that, he would give seniors a tax credit to help them install ramps, handrails and walk-in showers so they can stay in their homes; allow them to defer property tax increases until their home was sold and invest more in research into the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Total cost: $925 million according to the Liberal platform ($220 million solely for home care).
His rivals also promise to upgrade home care. Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is pledging to increase the province’s investment by $175 million. New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath is offering seniors an additional one million hours of home care. Her party would also provide housekeepers to them with laundry, meal preparation and cleaning. The two measures would cost $335 million.
What they’re all counting on — although McGuinty is the only leader who has said so — is that Ottawa will come through.
The current federal-provincial health accord expires in 2014. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said his government will continue to increase its contribution by 6 per cent a year until 2016. McGuinty wants a 10-year agreement with a special emphasis on improving health care for seniors. As an experienced negotiator, he maintains, he has the skill to press for it.
He makes no apology for his government’s eight-year record on home care. “We had a good start. Now we’re putting our shoulder to the wheel in a more determined way.”
He sounds sincere — just like he did the last two times.
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