08/19/2013 12:04 EDT | Updated 10/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Canadian Medical Association Report Card: National Senior Health Care Strategy Wanted

Woman's pale hands resting on sheet and blankets of her hospital bed.

CALGARY - A poll released by the Canadian Medical Association says most people want a national strategy for seniors health care which includes an emphasis on keeping them in their homes as long as possible.

The Ipsos Reid poll, done annually as part of the association's national report card on health issues, said that 93 per cent of those surveyed indicated any such plan should address care at homes, hospitals, hospices and long-term facilities.

An equal number suggested the entire system could be improved by keeping seniors at home as long as possible, thereby lightening the load on hospitals and nursing homes.

"The results of this year’s CMA report card send a clear and direct message to policy-makers and public office-holders that all levels of government need to act to address the demographic tsunami that is heading toward the health-care system," association president Dr. Anna Reid said in a release.

Reid said research shows it costs $126 a day to provide care for a patient in long-term care versus $842 a day in a hospital. But making it easier for seniors to stay at home while getting the care they need would be the preferred and most "cost-effective option," she said.

The poll, conducted between July 17 and July 26 by phone with 1,000 Canadians, has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

Other results from the poll found 89 per cent of those surveyed believed a national approach to seniors care should involve federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government. And 78 per cent suggested the federal government has an important role to play in developing a strategy.

Only four out of 10 felt that hospitals and long-term care facilities in their area could handle the needs of seniors not able to stay at home. The same proportion said they were confident in the current health system’s ability to serve Canada’s aging population.

"The anxiety Canadians have about health care in their so-called golden years is both real and well-founded,” Reid noted.

"Let there be no doubt that a national strategy for seniors health care should be a federal priority."

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose addressed the medical association's annual convention Monday morning.

"As soon as a federal minister says the words 'national strategy,' a lot of provinces flinch a little, so we don't talk about those kind of things until we talk to our colleagues in the provinces and territories," Ambrose said after her speech.

The new health minister, who said the government intends to improve care through innovation and research, acknowledged the results of the survey weren't unexpected.

"It's no surprise to me or any health minister — or probably any Canadian — (that) the demographic crunch ... is looming. There's already a lot of pressure on the health-care system, but there will only be more pressure on the health-care system."

The convention runs until Wednesday.

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