As the Ford government prepares to launch its health system reforms, Ontario's home-care sector is pitching itself as a key part of the solution to the province's overburdened hospitals.
The umbrella group Home Care Ontario is urging the province to expand the types of health care that its workers can provide to patients at home, helping to ease the so-called "hallway medicine" problem.
That's one of the key recommendations in a new policy paper from Home Care Ontario, aimed at the government's soon-to-be-created Ontario Health Teams.
The teams will bring together hospitals, home-care agencies and long-term care facilities in geographic areas. Each team will receive a combined pot of funding to provide the range of health services its population needs.
The paper says the government's restructuring of the health system and the creation of the Ontario Health Teams (OHTs) can make it easier for people to be cared for at home and can shift the burden of care away from hospitals when patients truly don't need to be hospitalized.
"People are relying on the most easily accessed form of care available — hospitals — simply because the emergency department is open 24/7," says the paper, which is to be released publicly on Tuesday. CBC News was provided an advance copy.
"The single most effective thing OHTs can do to address the rising cost and declining quality of care is to provide patients and families with alternate ways of accessing timely care in the community,"
The hospital sector is endorsing the home-care group's recommendations.
"Many of the solutions to hospital overcrowding lie outside hospital walls," said Anthony Dale, CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association. The report quotes Dale as saying the recommendations "would strengthen home and community care and reduce over-reliance on hospitals and emergency departments."
"We have to arm our home-care system with the ability to deliver a very, very complex care need to people," said Home Care Ontario CEO Sue Vanderbent in an interview.
"That's exactly to keep them home, stable and not needing to go to the [emergency room] in crisis."
The latest figures from the province show the average patient who was admitted to hospital in September spent 17 hours waiting in the emergency room. More than 5,400 beds in Ontario hospitals (18 per cent of all acute-care beds) were occupied by patients who no longer require hospitalization but can't get the long-term care or home care they need.
"There is a real urgency, and I believe the government knows there is a real urgency to addressing this problem," said Vanderbent.
Other recommendations in the paper include:
- Giving home care workers real-time access to their patients' electronic medical records.
- Expanding the use of technology to provide more care at home, such as remote monitoring of vital signs.
- Involving home-care staff directly in planning for discharge from hospital.
The creation of the Ontario Health Teams is "a real opportunity" to get the system working together in ways that help patients stay at home and spend as little time in hospital as possible, said Vanderbent.
The government expects to announce the first Ontario Health Teams by the end of November, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said.
"Integrating home care into Ontario Health Teams is a key part of the government's plan to end hallway health care," Elliott's manager of media relations, Hayley Chazan, said Monday in an email to CBC News.