Ontario’s New Home Care Funding Mean Opportunities for Agencies

It was author Laura Ingalls Wilder who said, “home is the nicest word there is”. Today, nearly 60 years after her passing, these words are as true as ever.

Canadians are speaking up about their health care preferences, and the message is clear. Now, more than ever, they want to be cared for at home. And governments are listening. Recently, Ontario announced $100 million dollars in home care funding.

If you’re a home care service provider, you have reason to be optimistic.

There’s a widespread vision of what quality care should look like, and increasingly, it’s delivered in the home. The fact that the government is taking steps to turn this vision into a reality is very promising.

Of course, things don’t always go as smoothly as planned. According to the critics, Ontario’s home care efforts have fallen short in the past.

Could recent funding signal a new era in home care? If so, how can home care agencies make the most of future opportunities presented by the government?

Getting Home Care Right

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about the state of Canadian home care. Not all of it has been positive.

According to some reporters, Ontarians receive at-home care that’s poorly-coordinated, unpredictable, and all-around insufficient.

As a service provider, you strive to offer exemplary care. And yet, you may encounter frustration from those who need more hours than your agency is able to provide. Government delivery models are at the heart of this problem.

When it comes to publicly-funded care, long wait times is another issue often cited by critics.

Since 1996, home care wait lists in Ontario have consistently numbered more than 10,000 people.

Of course, those in the industry know this is nothing new.

Back in 2002, a study headed by Roy Romanow concluded that home care in Canada was “in upheaval”. The study also noted that the “[d]emand for services increases daily, far outpacing increases in funding”.

That was almost 15 years ago. Have things changed?

After years of work, have Canada’s governments figured out how to deliver the right services to those who need it?

In Ontario, the recent infusion of funding is only one piece of a larger picture. The overarching plan for home care – announced in 2015 – addresses some of the trickiest issues the province faces in this area.

Home Care Ontario called the plan “a prompt and clear plan to improve access and expand home care service”. It’s apparent that the government has recently achieved a better understanding of not only demand, but the complexity of the existing system.

Take, for example, recent efforts to increase personal support worker wages across the province. When difficulties arose, Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins admitted the move was more complicated than predicted.

In times of significant change, policymakers learn what works and what doesn’t. Often, this is when the voices of service providers are most clearly heard.

New Era, New Opportunities

The Ontario government isn’t just paying lip service to home care. Among decision makers, there seems to be an understanding of the resources required to improve the delivery of services.

To get things right at every step, they’ll need the input of those who understand home care’s biggest challenges. First and foremost, this means people in the community who are receiving care. But it also means those who provide care.

If you’re involved in running a home care agency, you know how valuable you can be to this process. Listening closely to your clients is a big part of what you – and your caregivers – do.

Luckily, policymakers are seeking the right input to ensure that future home care initiatives succeed.

Consider the government’s explicit request for providers to submit ideas for home and community funding models last year. The carefully-selected pilot projects that emerged show how seriously the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care takes collaboration.

These projects only represent wave 1 of the bundled services funding models.

In its announcement of the pilot projects, the ministry expressed its “commitment to build on the momentum” created by its call for Expressions of Interest.

Moving forward, this approach will be critical. The best way to serve Ontarians is through collaboration with those who serve the public.

This is why service providers should embrace the sweeping changes slated for the near future. However care delivery routes are reconfigured, demand for the expertise of existing home care agencies will likely remain strong.

Innovators Needed

It’s happening. Home care is no longer a secondary priority.

What can you do to help your agency succeed in the new home care era? How can you ensure you’re ability to provide clients with even higher-quality care?

It goes without saying that forward-thinking providers are best positioned to take advantage of new opportunities. This means agencies that aren’t afraid to champion new relationships, new delivery models, and new technologies.

Patient-centred care continues to be a major focus for the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. As a service provider, you know that looking closely at patient (or client) needs isn’t just a trend. It’s a necessity. Clients are demanding to have their voices heard.

In a recent blog post, Saint Elizabeth CEO Shirlee Sharkey discusses this new attitude. She notes that providers have long enjoyed being in charge, but that things are beginning to change.

“In today’s environment,” says Sharkey, “we see a shift that extends beyond patient advocacy and into patients being the drivers of their own journey.”

Part of putting patients in the driver’s seat is recognizing their preferences. This can occur more safely once continuity of care has been established. This is where bundled services – and the technologies that connect them – come in.

If your agency has the right potential partners and an innovative vision for putting patients first, you may well find government support. To that end, any technology that leads to the seamless dispatch of services is likely to be seen as valuable.

But even if you put the recent focus of policymakers aside, the need to consider new technologies is pressing.

Consider this: the federal and Ontario governments recently announced plans to bring high-speed internet to all of rural Ontario. In this climate – where everybody has access to information – agencies can’t afford to fall behind.

The Big Picture

Recent home care funding and initiatives could mean big opportunities for Ontario service providers. Understanding public expectations and recent government actions may help agencies get the support they need to further improve the care they provide.

Moving forward, an innovative mindset and an enthusiasm for collaboration will likely be keys to success. By adopting a big-picture perspective, you can provide better, faster, and more cost-efficient home care. This higher-quality service will be what sets the best providers apart in the years ahead.

Feature Image: Alex Guibord

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