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CMA president pledges support to Liberal MPs working for better seniors care

Leaders of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appear before open parliamentary hearings to talk about better seniors care every chance they get.

But CMA President Dr. Cindy Forbes went to Parliament Hill on April 18 for something different — a private briefing to government Members of Parliament (MPs) on how to improve seniors care.

Liberal MPs have set up a special caucus on seniors care. More than 20 Liberal MPs meet every Tuesday night to discuss how to improve seniors care and seek the counsel of outside experts. Dr. Forbes was the first major speaker to address the group.

Dr. Forbes told the MPs that Canada recently hit an important milestone:  those aged 65 and older now outnumber children aged 14 and under. This demographic shift is highlighting the need for dramatic changes in our health care system.

And the key to that dramatic shift, she said, is better seniors care, which will go a long way toward improving the entire health care system.

The need for change is particularly urgent in the provinces with older populations such as Nova Scotia, where Dr. Forbes practices family medicine, or Manitoba, she said. In these provinces, seniors account for almost half the health care costs.

Yet the system is not working for seniors.

Dr. Forbes cited three areas that highlight big trouble in seniors care:

  • Patients not filling prescriptions or skipping medication due to cost.
  • Patients waiting months — sometimes years — for a spot to become available in a long-term care facility while there is no guarantee that spot, when it does become available, will be in their own community.
  • Patients who want to grow old in their own homes but can’t because the support they need to do so just isn’t available in their communities.

“These situations are unfortunately not unique,” Dr. Forbes said. “It’s a pattern we know is repeating itself across the country.”

Another urgent priority would be help for the 8.1 million Canadians acting as informal caregivers to their loved ones. Just five per cent of those caring for a parent received government financial assistance in 2012.

A good place to start, Dr. Forbes said, would be for Ottawa to amend the caregiver and family caregiver tax credits to make them refundable. “We see this as a first step in recognizing this critical partnership in a meaningful way,’’ she said. “That’s part of becoming a more compassionate society.”

Liberal MP Deb Schulte, one of the organizers of the seniors caucus, said she saw Dr. Forbes’s presentation as the beginning of a working relationship as the MPs continue to wrestle with seniors issues. She also said the caucus will be asking Dr. Forbes back.

Dr. Forbes invited the caucus to consider her and her staff at the CMA at the MPs’ service as a resource.

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