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Wait time for nursing home beds doubles in two years

The Waterloo Record has run a fascinating story today on waits for long term care in Ontario.  Some highlights:

  • From 2007 to 2009, the average wait time for a nursing-home bed in Ontario more than doubled, from 49 to 109 days.
  • The province wide tally of people waiting is now more than 25,000 and rising, doubled from 12,000 in 2005.
  • The supply of new beds is static, with annual growth of less than one per cent. Only 900 more beds are expected to be available in nursing homes over the next 24 months.
  • The average wait for a long-term care bed through the Local Health Integration Network of Waterloo Wellington is 204 days. Only 33.9 per cent get their first choice of home.
  • For hard-to-place seniors with a need for a higher level of care, waits can be two or more times the provincial average.
  • In rural areas and northern Ontario, families may be separated by hundreds of kilometres, if there are beds at all. On average, less than 40 per cent of applicants get their first-choice home.

Deb Matthews, the health minister, says "We know that people are waiting a long time to get into a long-term care home. But we also know that with the right investments, we can actually keep people at home longer." She adds that the ultimate solution is to rely more on care at home, and to make more use of shorter-term "restorative" beds.

By February, Ontario had 813 of the interim beds Matthews referred to, in nursing homes, hospitals or hospital-managed sites, and more are planned, the ministry says.

In such placements, the elderly are "building their strength up, they're getting healthier, and are actually, many of them, going home, those who would have otherwise thought they were going into long-term care," Matthews said.

The idea of restorative beds is a good one.  Patients may no longer be acute care patients, but some still can't be sent back home.  The reality, however, is Matthews and the McGuinty government are forcing hospitals to cut these very beds and services around the province.  In fact, this approach is practically a religion, nowadays -- with "bed blockers" the official enemy.

More on this article later today.

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