Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am Dr. Laurent Marcoux. As president of the Canadian Medical Association, the CMA, I am pleased to be here. Thank you for your invitation.
As the national organization representing more than 85,000 physicians, the CMA has been advocating for improvements to seniors' care for a number of years. In addition, more than 50,000 Canadians have reached us on demandaplan.ca, our website devoted to mobilizing patient support for a national seniors strategy.
For the last 50 years, Canadians have been living longer and are in better health. We are clearly delighted with the progress our country has made, but we also recognize the pressures on our health care system. We know that the number of seniors in Canada will double in the next 30 years, which will result in additional pressures on our healthcare system.
I must emphasize the exceptional work done by Marc Serré MP, whose motion on the need for a national seniors strategy is what started the study that your committee is undertaking.
The CMA brief before you today contains 15 recommendations that form the basis of a national seniors strategy. It is our view that these recommendations will help our seniors to remain active, contributing citizens of their communities.
Given the limited time I have available, I will focus on the three themes that your committee is addressing. So I will not go through all the recommendations in our brief.
First, I will talk about seniors' access to housing.
As I just mentioned, we know that the demand for long-term care will increase as the population of Canada ages. A recent report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicated that residential care capacity must double over the next 20 years in order to meet the needs of the elderly population.
Not only must we build new long-term facilities, we must also renovate current facilities and ensure that they are safe and ready to meet the needs of the patients. We rely too much on hospitals to provide that type of care, and it is neither effective, nor viable nor satisfactory for the elderly. It is critical for us to decentralize health care services from hospitals towards communities and home care.
The current situation is a major contributor to clogged emergency room services, the lengthening wait times and the cancellation of surgery. The situation is completely unacceptable and, I repeat, is not viable. It even threatens to put our health care system in danger.
We encourage the government to continue investing in infrastructure that provides long-term care and ongoing care, so that we can improve care for seniors, at the same time as we are relieving the pressure on the short-term care system.
To that end, the CMA has asked the Conference Board of Canada to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of meeting the demand for long-term beds in Canada. The report will be released in the coming weeks.
We were reassured to see the government announce, in its most recent budget, the new national housing strategy that will inject more than $11.2 billion into adequate and affordable housing for Canadians. It is our view that a significant part of that investment should be allocated to the needs of seniors.
Second, I will talk about income security for vulnerable seniors.
At retirement age, many of our fellow Canadians rely on various public programs to meet their needs, such as old age security, the Canada pension plan and the guaranteed income supplement. Sometimes, these measures are in addition to personal pensions and investments.
We all know that the health of Canadians tends to improve with income. It is therefore troubling to see that poverty among seniors has been on the increase for a number of years. We are also of the view that, thanks to those investments, a number of seniors will benefit from a basic level of financial security, which will allow them to remain in their homes or in communities that cater to seniors. However, the measures must be continued, and be better targeted to the needs of Canadian seniors.
On the topic of income security, we must protect seniors by supporting public awareness initiatives that bring attention to the financial abuse of seniors. Too many seniors are victims of it and it is an evil that must stop.
Third, I will talk about the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors.
The CMA is of the opinion that our country is able to respond to the health and social needs of our seniors. A strategic approach is needed, a national strategy on the care of seniors.
In that context, we need to make sure that access to home care is uniform all across Canada and that clear operating principles are established. We must also establish performance objectives and a degree of accountability from all levels of government. A measure of that kind is necessary in order to give the public and the patients greater confidence in the home care system.
We have to provide better support for family and informal caregivers by providing them with training, respite care and financial assistance. We must also invest in programs that encourage healthy aging, such as programs that focus on physical activity, nutrition and mental health.
All partners in the field of health must unite their efforts in order to ensure that seniors have easy access to the care they need, ideally at home. These measures include access to a family physician, supported by a multidisciplinary team, coverage for essential medications, and smooth transitions between the levels of care.
We must create supportive environments that allow seniors to remain independent for as long as possible. To that end, we must promote positive messages about aging, provide employment to those who want to work, and ensure that buildings, pedestrian areas and transportation systems are safe and accessible.
In simple terms, improving the quality of life of seniors in Canada is not just a matter of health care. We have to create an environment in which Canadians can thrive as they age.
Our 15 recommendations, which you have before you, make up a master plan for the health system of tomorrow. The time has come to create an effective, efficient and equitable health system for seniors and for all Canadians.
We will be happy to answer your questions.