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Quebec Home Care Initiative Benefits Sick Seniors

A unique health care project in the province of Quebec, where nurses pay daily visits to sick seniors in their homes, is having clear results: two out of every three patients who have participated in the project have been able to avoid unnecessary hospital emergency admissions.

Launched two years ago by the Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre (IUHSSC) for South-Central Montreal in the residential borough of Verdun, the program has serviced 700 patients to date.

Two former hospital emergency department nurses, supported by several doctors with varying specialties, visit patients who are in urgent need of attention. The project is aimed primarily at people 65 years of age and older who suffer from multiple conditions, including loss of mobility, diabetes, heart problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

The nurses typically see two to five patients a day and refer only the most serious cases to hospital emergency services.

It’s a simple but effective solution to the chronic pressure on limited hospital resources. This winter’s widespread flu exacerbated hospital bed shortages. Elderly patients with multiple, complex health issues are also vulnerable to contracting infections, such as influenza, in hospital environments. Where possible, they are better served in the comfort, familiarity and relative safety of their homes by staff trained to provide acute care in a home context.

Patients in the program are reporting fewer visits to the emergency department, fewer infections and fewer unnecessary examinations. Their risk of contracting the flu and other potentially serious infections has dropped dramatically. It’s not only patients who benefit; the cost savings to the health care system are also significant. 

The Canadian Medical Association has called on the federal government to develop clear guidelines for the $6 billion earmarked for provinces and territories to provide home care in the next decade. 

The creation of programs allowing seniors to receive care in their homes, along with support for seniors’ caregivers, improves opportunities for the elderly to remain in their homes. The economic and social benefits are difficult to quantify, but the introduction of Verdun-style home care in other Canadian communities would be welcome progress for the growing ranks of seniors with increasingly complex health care problems.

The Verdun initiative will be showcased at a June health care conference of French-speaking countries in France, as an example of a sound investment in meeting the needs of an aging population.

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