REALITY CHECK: health minister's 300-bed continuing care complex misdiagnoses the problem

Last week, Yukon government health minister Mike Nixon spoke at length to the media in a bid to sell Yukoners his government’s controversial $330 million 300-bed long-term care complex in Whistle Bend. Nixon had a lot to say about the project – and about questions Yukoners are raising about the government’s sudden announcement of the project.

Let’s take a minute to examine some of the health minister’s claims and offer a more complete diagnosis:

“The NDP… oppose this project even when the data and rationale is provided to the public.”

The Yukon government likes to pretend they’ve done their homework and that their health care decisions are based on evidence, but the professional medical community and public disagree. The Canadian Nurses Association’s president says investing in home health care “can make positive differences in a person’s health status, relieve pressure on overcrowded care facilities, and lead to performance efficiencies in the health system.” The Canadian Medical Association also reports Canadians prefer investing in home and community care over hospital and long-term care. In fact, 96% of Canadians agree it’s important to be able to age at home with access to health care in a home setting.

 

“[The Yukon NDP] are proving that they put their own political ambitions ahead of Yukoners’ needs.”

This is pure spin. Over the past decade, the Yukon government’s investments in continuing care have not kept up with the demands of our aging population. The Yukon NDP caucus knows that Yukon seniors need better options to support their health and well-being as they age. We should invest in a continuum of care options including home care, assisted living services, residential care and quality end-of-life care. Instead of this reasoned approach to health care planning, which is supported by the 2008 Yukon Health Care Review that advocated for “the right care at the right place at the right time”, the Yukon government has unilaterally decided on a 300-bed institution as the panacea for Yukon seniors' health needs.

 

“We are committed to supporting people to stay in their communities as long as possible.”

This stated commitment does not reflect the Yukon government's past actions, nor their insistence on removing seniors and Elders from their homes and communities to live in a centralized Whitehorse facility. In reality, the number of Yukon seniors being assisted by home care services is falling as our population ages, while we have the highest ratio in Canada of seniors aged 65 and older living in long-term beds. If Yukon addressed the root causes behind this high demand and reduced the ratio of seniors using long-term care beds to more closely reflect the national average, we could reduce the Yukon government’s projected need for long-term care beds by over half. In other words, if Yukon listened to organizations like the Canadian Association of Retired Persons and helped more Yukoners “age in place” at homes and in their communities, we wouldn't need a 300-bed institution.

 

“Building 15 smaller 10-bed facilities with the necessary [services] would drive the costs far higher than one facility.”

No one believes that fifteen 10-bed long-term care facilities is the only alternative to the proposed 300-bed institution. Putting this red herring aside, the Yukon government has provided no evidence demonstrating that their proposed institution is the most effective or affordable option to support the health and well-being of Yukon seniors. In fact, national Canadian Institute for Health Information data on long-term care facilities indicate that facilities with over 200 beds are among the most expensive to operate. Meanwhile, the Yukon NDP caucus' vision for “aging in place” provides seniors and Elders with a continuum of care to choose from at a more affordable rate. A recent analysis performed by the Canadian Medical Association found that the cost of one day of home care is nearly 60% less than one day in a long-term care facility.

 

“Larger resident populations provide a broader peer group for socializing opportunities and building community.”

Does anyone ever feel they’ve become part of a “broader peer group” during a stay in the hospital? Concentrating 300 patients alongside a staffing cohort of hundreds won’t build the mystical seniors’ community the government claims will develop. What’s more, Whistle Bend is very much a work in progress. Residents of the proposed three-storey complex will be largely isolated from many services and a surrounding community for years to come. Rather than compelling seniors and Elders to leave their homes due to a lack of appropriate care option, the government should focus on preserving the integrity of the communities we already enjoy – and the essential role of seniors and Elders at their core.

 

The Yukon government is playing pre-election politics with continuing care for elderly Yukoners. It’s time to mothball their flawed plan to build a 300-bed long-term care institution. Instead, let’s listen to Yukoners and health care professionals and consider evidence-based solutions based on a continuum of home and community supports.

 

Photo: jasleen_kaur / flickr. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.