Compared to many of the millions of people across the country looking after loved ones and friends — the hidden, unpaid health-care workforce — Simard considers himself blessed. He and his wife, Phoebe Hainnu, can afford to try therapies that are slowly helping to increase her independence. That work has become the focus of both of their days.
But the role is not without stress. “We don’t go home at 5 p.m.,” the Manotick resident says of caregivers.
Growing stress among unpaid caregivers is something that is increasingly alarming health officials in Ontario, who say there are more patients, and sicker patients, including more with dementia, needing care at a time when caregivers are burning out. That stress can lead to anxiety, depression and early death in caregivers.
In a report released today, Health Quality Ontario warns of a “perfect storm” in the province’s ability to provide home care.
“As long-stay home-care patients in Ontario become collectively more elderly, ill and impaired, the family and other unpaid caregivers who help look after them are becoming increasingly stressed and burned out,” says the report, titled The Reality of Caring: Distress Among the Caregivers of Home Care Patients.
“This combination of developments, along with the aging of Ontario’s population, may be creating a perfect storm for the provincial health system’s capacity to provide home care.”
Its lead author, Dr. Joshua Tepper, CEO of Health Quality Ontario and a family physician in Toronto, said he regularly sees caregivers in the emergency room who have hit a wall.
They will often arrive with the elderly person they are caring for, he said, and when asked what is wrong, the person standing beside the bed will say, “I can’t continue.”
“I now end up in a position of having to admit a patient, not because of acute medical issues, but because we had hit a wall with the supports around them,” he said.
The report underscores how serious the growing crisis is for the health system — “ a recognition of how pervasive this hidden workforce is and how vulnerable our overall system is.”
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