ALMONTE – People are going to start getting more sick, and for longer periods, as the baby boom generation enters retirement age.
And the health care system needs to change to meet increasing geriatric care needs over the next 20 years.
“We are starting down a road where, in 20 years, we will have a completely different conception of what our health care system is,” said Alex Munter, the chief executive officer of the Champlain LHIN (Local Health Integration Network). “When we say health care system, we think hospital. That is because our health care system is build around hospitals.”
Munter was speaking at the annual general meeting of the Mills Community Support Corporation at the Almonte and District High School gymnasium June 23. He explained that part of the reason is because of the major demographic shift Canada has experienced between the Centennial year in 1967 and this year, when the first of the baby boomers start to retire.
In 1967, the median age in Canada was 24, with half the population over 24, and half the population under that age.
“(In 1967, medicare was) built around acute episodic intervention,” said Munter. “Every year, our health care system gets better, and better, and better at doing that,” dealing with sudden visits to the emergency room.
The demographic needs of 2011, however, look much different.
“Fast forward to today, where our median age is 42,” said Munter.
In some parts of his coverage area – which stretches from Deep River to Cornwall – as much as 25 per cent more than half of the population is over the median age.
Another statistic that will change how health care is delivered is that four out of five older Canadians will have to grapple with a chronic health condition, which can range from diabetes and depression to lower back pain. As Canadians age, health care professionals will have to start “designing a system to help people deal with chronic illness over a long period of time.”
Munter commended the Mills Community Support Corporation for its work in keeping seniors active, healthy, and mentally and physically connected to the community.
“You are the future of the health care system,” said Munter, since the Mills shares a goal with the LHIN of helping seniors “stay as independent as possible and to stay at home for as long as possible.”
One way to keep people who do not need to be there out of hospital is to support caregivers and families. He noted up to five per cent of a seniors’ functioning capacity can be lost for each day they are in hospital, beyond the necessary recovery and rehabilitation time.
Munter commended the good work the Mills Corporation does in co-ordinating its home support program with the Almonte General Hospital (AGH).
“People stay in our long-term care facilities longer than they do elsewhere in Ontario,” said Munter, an average of 3.4 years, compared with the provincial average of three years. If that number for the Champlain LHIN area were simply brought down by four months to the provincial average, Munter estimated that it would free up about 700 long term care beds. He made a point of asking the AGH’s new CEO, Mary Wilson Trider, how many long term beds her hospital had – 112.
Another area for improvement in the health care system for Munter came in harnessing technology to send information.
“Health care is about 10 years behind in its use of technology,” Munter said, not in terms of medical equipment, which is top of the line, but in terms of doctors and nurses still using fax machines and the phone as the primary methods of sending information. He noted that the goal is to have all health records available electronically by 2015 for the Champlain LHIN region.
Munter was pleased to report a recent survey had found that 91 per cent of respondents in the Champlain LHIN area rated their quality of medical care as good or better, though he conceded transitions between levels of care – such as referrals from general practitioners to specialists or transferring care from hospital to the home – had room for improvement.
While Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has promised to do away with LHINs if his party is elected to government at Queen’s Park this October, Munter pointed out that LHINs perform an important task.
“If the health care system was an airport, the LHIN is the air traffic controller, making sure that people need to get where they need to go safely,” said Munter. “We don’t own the airplanes or the airline.”
Munter has served as a regional and Ottawa city councillor from Kanata, and ran for the Ottawa mayoralty in 2006. After leaving Ottawa City Hall, he became executive director of the Youth Services Bureau in the city, before taking up his most recent assignment. He has also taught – in both official languages – social work courses at the University of Ottawa. He also founded the Kanata Kourier in 1983 at the age of 14, a paper he ran out of his family basement. That publication was later merged with another paper to form the Kanata Kourier-Standard.