Thinking about families and home care in Canada

Of all the challenges facing Canada over the next two decades, one issue that regularly get pushed into the background is the increasing home care needs for aging loved ones.

As Angus Reid identifies in a recent report, a not insignificant number (a quarter of the +30 Canadian population) are currently delivering care to parents and in-laws as they age in place. That number will increase as Boomers continue moving through retirement and experience age-related impairments. As someone who struggles to hire new support workers every year, this is already a problem for those requiring in-home care – if we don’t have enough workers to fill the need now, a rapid growth in need will leave a LOT of people in precarious situations.

While many will frame this problem through a simplistic dichotomy of limited resources versus lazy millennials refusing to care for their elders, the causes and effects of in-home care shortages are far more complex. There are labour force issues, as people with important skills and competencies step out of the labour pool to care for relatives. There are burnout and mental health issues, as personal care is a tough job that not everyone is cut out to perform. And there are equity issues, as few families have the capacity to eliminate an income source from the household and stay afloat. Simply put, there isn’t a single sector of our social and economic spheres that remains untouched by in-home care.

We often complain about how the government spends our money and that our taxes are too high but shifting more resources into the health care sector is kind of a no-brainer. Increasing funding to quality in-home care is not just the right thing to do for citizens, morally, but it can also lead to economic benefits, including good paying jobs for those entering the field at various levels as well as freeing up others to bring their talents to other sectors of the labour market. It means thinking of health care as more than just doctors and nurses. And, of course, paying the non-doctors and nurses a fair, living wage.

To get out of the Great Depression, FDR’s New Deal created work opportunities, paid by the government, for those who were ready, willing and able. Perhaps it is time for a New Canadian Health Care Deal, aimed at providing viable, stable work both within and outside the hospital. Instead of factories that make “things”, maybe we should focus on creating jobs that enabled people. Instead of building what we hope people might want to buy, why not invest in services we know everyone will need?

To be honest, this might be the most Canadian solution yet to the challenges of globalization.