Nursing Shortages Impact Burgeoning Eldercare: A Canadian Perspective

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By Carol-Ann Hamilton

Serious shortages loom.

Increasingly (but not nearly enough), the elder crisis borne of growing aging populations and woefully-prepared systems is recognized on levels that extend globally.

With privilege, I offer a Canadian perspective on these critical issues.  Clearly a contentious topic in the U.S., universal healthcare as practiced north of our shared border is oft touted as a model state.

As such, would you be alarmed to know:

  • Despite a reported 10-year high in students entering studies, the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) predicts a shortage of some 60,000 registered nurses by 2022.
  • National demand is currently masked by delayed retirements; overtime is frequently used to compensate.
  • The financial implications of high turnover – on average 20 per cent country-wide in acute care – compound present loads.  At a very-conservative replacement cost of $25,000 per person, so much more needs to be done to retain and engage valuable talent.

Add to the mix burgeoning eldercare needs.

At the same time:  

  • The nursing population is aging.  Escalating systemic burden is inevitable as Boomers age and require more healthcare resources.
  • In 2009, Canada had 4.7 million seniors (13.9% of the population).  Between 2031 and 2036, that number is expected to climb to 10.9 million (25% of projections).
  • In 1971, there were nearly 8 persons of working age for every Canadian over 65.  By 2019, that ratio will have fallen to 3.8 followed by shrinkage to 2.5 by 2033.  A scary next generation dearth exists to sustain a growing mature populace.

Working conditions need addressing.

Not surprisingly, a recent CNA study of fatigue levels amongst nurses found higher-than-average absenteeism due to sickness compared with the general population.  Extra-long shifts contribute heavily to illness borne of exhaustion.

Strong links have been found between medication error and workplace environment – which includes inadequate resources, poor working relations with physicians, lack of support and low job security.

A Statistics Canada 2008 report cites not being able to do all they want for patients amongst the three top reasons nurses leave their jobs.  Can you relate?

Personal stories echo the statistics.

I sure can!

The Victorian Order of Nurses Canada states demand for home-care is increasing.  No kidding!  Canadian institutions evermore pressure stretched Sandwich Generation family members to pile responsibility for gruelling caregiving onto stressed lives.  The imperative is to keep elders at home and/or out of limited assisted-living facilities.

Indeed, here’s how my Dad’s last five weeks unfurled.  Paid in-home providers callously recommended we sell his house to locate funds to support rising needs.  “Luckily”, he passed away in hospital just after we were ordered to vacate his deathbed or pay exorbitant fees despite 40 of 89 years spent contributing to a solid pension and insurance plan.

On the other hand, a nurse practitioner (angel) faithfully attended my mother’s mounting ailments twice daily across an anguished decade.  Riddled with pain, I honestly don’t know how my father or I as an only child would have survived if not for her dedication.

Yet, these essential professionals are paid 10 to 15 per cent less than hospital counterparts.  Funding fails to keep up, thus causing provincial rationing of visit frequency. 

Something needs to give when systems are stretched to their breaking point.

I know!  I speak with the “converted”.

You’re on the front lines every day.  From my heart, you have my unbridled compassion.

It’s why I love to see now-regular TV ads striving to bring Canadian public awareness to severe nursing shortages and their distressing consequences.

Believe me, in our respective realms, we reside at the pioneering edge of exploding issues.  As early-adopters, it’s incumbent upon us to keep blazing trails.

In the end, what I know for sure is expressed by a favorite Albert Einstein quotation: “The problems of tomorrow cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them in the first place.”

Through Spirit Unlimited, Carol-Ann Hamilton is a transformational coach, speaker and author of the recently published, Coping with Un-cope-able Parents: LOVING ACTION for Eldercare.  Watch for her blog, workshops and interviews as this Activist shares hilarious plus poignant parental lessons to support those stressed and sandwiched between challenging aging parents and their own growing families.  You can reach her at 905-822-2503, spirit-unlimited@rogers.com or www.CarolAnnHamilton.com.