Grey wave

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One thing can be said about the health-care crunch in this province. And that is, we’re not alone.

If you’ve been locked in a castle tower for the past two decades, you may have missed the endless warnings about aging baby boomers sucking up health-care resources. Well, the tsunami has arrived.

 In fact, it started washing ashore a few years ago.

Statistics Canada figures show the wave has been a gradual one. And it’s nowhere near ready to peak.

At its lowest point in 1966, the median age in Canada was 26. That rose to 33 by 1990 and hit 41 in 2011.

Likewise, the percentage of people 65-plus years of age has risen from eight per cent in 1966 to 33 and 41 in 1990 and 2001, respectively.

As the grey wave continues to crash ashore, it’s expected that within two decades, almost 23 per cent of us will be 65 and older. And this is in spite of another mini-baby boom reported in the 2011 statistics.

Eastern Health officials may well be forgiven in thinking the media is out to get them.

Over the past two months, The Telegram has been reporting on numerous concerns over emergency and long-term care in the St. John’s area.

But there is reason to question how well local authorities are handling what is, in fact, a global problem.

A new, much larger, long-term care facility will soon be complete in Pleasantville, but that doesn’t address the difficulty in recruiting enough staff to cover even existing facilities. And there’s been no talk of adding a third hospital to the booming metro region since the Grace was closed in 2000.

On Tuesday, The Telegram reported that for 91 per cent of visits to the emergency room at St. Clare’s and the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s from April to October, only one in four patients received their first assessment by a doctor within the recommended wait time.

And there are dozens of chronic care patients in the hospital system waiting for long-term care beds.

David Foot, author of “Boom, Bust and Echo,” says governments need to be more aggressive in tackling the crunch.

“If we’re going to try and get rid of deficits by cutting expenditures, we’re never going to make it,” he told the National Post in 2011. “We’ve got to raise taxes. You’ve got to be creative. You’ve got to have new tax sources.”

That, of course, is the last thing anyone wants to consider.

“It takes a very brave politician to take on demographics as a long-term issue,” Foot said, “because the paybacks are not going to be within their electoral cycle.”

In the meantime, expect the media coverage to continue.

Because if the numbers are any indication, health care is likely to continue bulging at the seams for some time to come.

Organizations: The Telegram, Statistics Canada, Health Sciences Centre National Post

Geographic location: Canada, Pleasantville

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Recent comments

  • J
    November 29, 2013 - 19:09

    I fully concur with David. Just moved home 2 years ago. I would not do my children the injustice of raising them here to graduate high school and having them suffer the tax bill that will come due in about another 15-20 years. I'm appalled right now at the amount of taxes I am paying, and for what? Nothing. I can't even get a family doctor in close proximity to my rural community on the southern shore. The infrastructure is absolutely, tee-totally horrendous, I'm funding ferries to welfare islands on the south and north coasts of the island, overpriced food, overpriced milk, overpriced eggs, overpriced meat, overpriced fruit, overpriced vegetables, overpriced alcohol, overpriced gasoline, overpriced airfares, tax on second hand vehicle purchases, the list goes on and on.

  • david
    November 29, 2013 - 10:39

    I beg to differ....we are very much alone. This place is aging MUCH faster than the rest of Canada, the result of multi-generational economics. After lives of poor diets, unhealthy habits, and lack of exercise, seniors here are in much worse health for their age. And the health care system awaiting them has been grossly mismanaged and underfunded to a much larger extent than most other provinces. So if you want to put a positive spin on this, Newfoundland should serve as the horror show wake-up call for the rest of Canada to realize what a pickle they're all headed for soon after.