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Improved functioning is particularly crucial when it comes to Canada’s growing number of seniors

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As Canada’s health ministers met in Toronto in October to discuss a new Health Accord between the provinces, territories and federal government, Canadian Medical Association (CMA) President Dr. Granger Avery said he hoped the goal would be to improve patient care, not obsess over the bottom line.

“Money is important, sure it is,” he told the Globe and Mail. “But if we don’t address how we actually engage and make our system function, then we’ve missed the boat.”

Dr. Avery says improved functioning is particularly crucial when it comes to Canada’s growing number of seniors, and Pamela Siekierski couldn’t agree more.

The Ottawa physiotherapist, founder of the Physical Therapy Institute (PTI), is well aware of the CMA’s call for creation of a national seniors strategy. “We are already behind in making this happen,” she says. (That call has already received support from almost 40,000 Canadians, who have signed on at www.demandaplan.ca.)

Ms. Siekierski, the senior therapist at PTI, has worked in the field for 35 years, and is experienced with the issues facing seniors because they account for 20 per cent of her casework. She thinks improved physical fitness for older Canadians should be part of any new strategy.

Dr. Avery agrees. “A national seniors strategy is a concerted way to address the growing — and likely catastrophic — challenges arising from an aging population. Helping to move seniors out of acute care facilities and back into their communities will ensure better care for patients and free up resources.”

And he says now is the time to do it. “This Health Accord is the best opportunity we’ve had for several decades to actually advance Canadian health care,” he told the Globe and Mail. “What we have now is a prime minister who is really engaged in Canadian health care and has appointed a physician [Health Minister Jane Philpott] who gets it, who has experience and who has an interest in making sure we actually improve health care in Canada.”

As for potential advances in providing care, Ms. Siekierski thinks it will be possible to ease pressure on hospitals by focusing more on problems, such as falls, that fill many hospital beds with older patients. Working with public health nurses and staff from the University of Ottawa, she has already participated in a study that looked at preventing falls among seniors. “We proved that interventions work. Seniors deserve the right to have fun and affordable programs that help them to maintain strength and balance, while also maintaining the independence that allows them to stay in their own homes. At the same time, this would also avoid the costly surgery needed to mend broken hips, which also fills acute care beds.”

Ms. Siekierski says that as the CMA pursues its national seniors strategy, physiotherapy is one of the health professions with a lot to contribute to the discussion. “We are a very underutilized asset in keeping health care costs down,” she said, “and in addressing the needs of seniors, who deserve better.”