Staff, funding shortages leave Hamilton patients without options for home care

·3 min read

In 2017, Barbara Weigelt’s husband had been in and out of the hospital for a year and a half with serious health issues when, all of a sudden, she faced a choice.

Her then-75-year-old husband, Keld Weigelt, could either move into palliative care or be cared for at home.

“We were very unsure of what to do, because I’m a senior as well, so obviously it would’ve been difficult for me to know whether or not I’d be capable of caring for him,” said the 73-year-old Hamilton resident.

Despite that, she and her kids — her son lives abroad and her daughter has a family of her own — knew that staying in the hospital was going to be hard on him.

“Even though we didn’t know what the outcome would be, we just knew that he had to be home,” said Weigelt. “Then there was the dilemma of how we were going to manage that.”

Thankfully, someone approached Weigelt at the hospital with a third option: home care.

Home care involves a variety of health services which allow patients to live at home while preparing or recovering from surgery or living with chronic conditions. Services can include personal care, nursing, physiotherapy or other forms of care.

With the large number of COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths in long-term care, more older people want to live at home as long as possible. At the same time, less than half of Canadians say they’re prepared to become caregivers, according to a National Institute on Ageing survey.

Home care is funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, but with insufficient funding and staff, access remains a challenge.

Home care is “a hugely necessary service,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director for the Ontario Health Coalition, pointing to fewer hospital beds and long wait lists for long-term care homes.

In 2015-16, more than 700,000 Ontarians received care through Community Care Access Centres, non-profit organizations that used to manage home care before it fell to Local Health Integration Networks. After the province passed Bill 175 in July, provider companies could take charge of managing care.

But Mehra said staffing and funding shortages mean many eligible patients don’t get the care they need. She added that when provider companies are themselves taking charge, it means there’s little accountability.

Workers “often” don’t show up, Mehra said. “It happens all the time. It’s the most common complaint in home care.”

Although home care is publicly funded, she said when it’s not budgeted sufficiently, there are limits to how many clients providers can serve.

“There’s no right to access home care in the way that there’s a right to access hospital care,” Mehra said.

After Weigelt learned about home care from a representative at SE Health — a non-profit care provider — she had a nurse assigned to her husband who was on-call 24-7 and was their point of contact for other services.

Weigelt says it had a lasting impact within a few months. She noted that her husband didn’t want his loved ones to see him in the hospital, but with home care, he could recover surrounded by family and friends.

“My husband basically recovered,” Weigelt said. “Being out of the hospital improved his state of mind.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator