'The needs keep going up'
Caring is providing the basic, hands-on care that people need, whether it's providing people with baths or making sure they have good food to eat.
“Curing is all those things we do in the hospital — for example, the operation to remove your cancer, or as you heard today, new improved methods of curing your aeortic stenosis.”
When curing patients, doctors should also be talking to them about what their chances are of having a good quality of life, he said.
Zalan, the president of Health Sciences North's medical staff and the co-chair of the Sudbury ALC steering committee, shared his thoughts on health care, and on how seniors can receive better care, with a group of about 40 people gathered for a Friendly to Seniors – Sudbury meeting April 16.
The government is clamping down on the amount of money it is willing to spend on health care, “which means there might be limits on what you can cure,” he said.
“The needs keep going up,” he said. “Which ones do we meet, and which ones do we not meet? I just think we need to get the caring right, so people can live in dignity. After that we can still afford a lot.”
Two new Health Sciences North programs seem to be heading in the right direction, Zalan said. They focus on improving care for seniors over the age of 75, making sure they avoid being readmitted to hospital, he said.
Continued Care, which involves hospital health-care workers visiting at-risk elderly patients after their discharge from hospital, is set to be launched this summer.
With the Virtual Ward program, set to be launched this fall, seniors and their caregivers would be given 24-hour telephone access to hospital health-care workers. These workers will also be able to remotely monitor the patient's vital signs, and will provide treatment consultation and home visits as required.
Dorothy Thompson, a 74-year-old retired public health nurse who attended the meeting, said she agrees that keeping seniors at home whenever possible is the best thing for them. When you're in hospital, you can't even go to get yourself a cup of tea, and you start losing muscle mass, she said.
In terms of Zalan's thoughts on focusing on caring rather than curing, Thompson said she thinks there is too much emphasis on curing people's ailments.
She said she has clearly told her family what she wants them to do if she becomes too frail or sick to care for herself.
“I'm going to die,” she said. “You're going to die. Did you know that? ... There's quality of life, and there's quantity of life. While I want quality, I don't want quantity. I don't want to be alive if I'm just lying in bed looking at the ceiling.”
John Gaul, who also attended the meeting, said he thinks it's fine to improve how seniors are cared for. However, he said that some of Zalan's statements about making decisions around costly medical interventions make him sad.
“It's kind of like an invitation to cash out early and save a lot of money,” Gaul said.
He said there are a lot of things that the government should be looking at before pushing seniors and their families to make these kinds of decisions.
“We need to find out if we're really allocating our resources properly,” Gaul said. “I take health to be a human right.”
With declining enrolment in schools, perhaps money could be reallocated from the education system to the health-care system, he said.
John Lindsay, chair of Friendly to Seniors – Sudbury, said he invited Zalan to speak to his group about seniors' issues because “there's nothing more current right now than health care for seniors.”
“There's the overall situation with respect to the amount of health-care dollars that are in the system,” he said. “We've improved technology to the point where it's possible to keep people alive longer, but at much more expense. So if you're spending that amount of money, do you have the money left over to spend on home care or alternate level of care facilities? That's part of the bigger picture.”
But there's still a need to look at solving problems in the local health-care system, such as the overcrowding at Health Sciences North, while still keeping an eye on the big picture, Lindsay said.
Posted by Arron Pickard