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A ‘senior tsunami’ is about to hit Ontario and it needs more home-care workers, report says

Ontario will see a spike in demand for home-care workers over the next few years as its population of seniors increases sharply, according to a new report by health economists. 

The report, to be released Monday, includes demographic projections that suggest both the over-65 and over-75 populations will rise at notably faster annual rates in Ontario in the next five years than they will at any time in the next two decades.

Combining that demographic trend with evidence showing Ontarians use more health-care resources as they age, the report says the province will need to see a substantial increase in personal support workers (PSWs) and other home-care staff just to maintain current levels of service.  

The report, called The Impact of Ontario’s Aging Population on the Home Care Sector, comes from two economics professors at McMaster University — Arthur Sweetman and Boris Kralj — and was commissioned by Home Care Ontario, the umbrella group representing home care agencies.

“We need substantial growth in all the workers, all the types of occupations that work in home care,” Sweetman said in an interview.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen way down the road. We are at the peak years right now,” he said.

Photo of Sue VanderBent
‘The senior tsunami is not something that’s happening 10 or 15 years from now, it’s happening today,’ said Sue VanderBent, president and CEO of Home Care Ontario, an umbrella group of agencies that provide home care. (Claude Beaudoin/CBC)

From 2024 to 2029, Ontario will need another 6,800 PSWs to maintain the status quo level of home-care service, the report finds.

“The need for additional staff is very likely similar for nursing, therapists, and other health professionals working in the home care sector,” the authors write. 

Move could ease hospital burden, report says

The report says more PSWs will also be needed for long-term care homes and hospitals, but does not project how many. 

Until now, much of the attention to Ontario’s ongoing health-care staffing crunch has focused on the province’s hospitals. Monday’s report argues that beefing up the home-care workforce can help reduce the burden on hospitals and other parts of the health system. 

Proper management of chronic conditions like diabetes keeps people out of hospital, and effective home care can be key to managing those conditions, said Sweetman, who is McMaster’s Ontario research chair in health human resources.  

“You can relieve the pressure on emergency departments and on general practitioners as well,” he said. 

A display of three different brochures advertising companies that provide home care services.
The report projects that Ontario’s population of people age 75 and up will grow by 350,000 in just five years. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

The chief executive of Home Care Ontario, Sue VanderBent, said the report demonstrates how dramatically the home-care workforce will need to increase. 

“It means we have to staff up massively. We have to get enough people, enough personal support workers, nurses, therapists, home care staff to be able to meet the demand,” VanderBent said in an interview. 

She points to the report’s projections that Ontario’s population of seniors will grow by 650,000 in just five years — a 23 per cent increase, while the population of people age 75 and up will grow by 350,000 in the same time frame — a 27 per cent increase. 

“We’ve been ringing the alarm bell about the coming tsunami and here it is in black and white,” VanderBent said. “The senior tsunami is not something that’s happening 10 or 15 years from now, it’s happening today.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Health said in February 2023 that it was working on a health care human resources capacity plan, but it hasn’t yet been released. 

“We are analyzing current gaps in our system, anticipating needs over the next 10 years and determining solutions to address growing health care demands,” said the government in its Your Health plan. 

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