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The long-term care bottleneck.

The long-term
care bottleneck.

Most seniors want to live independently in their own homes – and they usually can for many years. When health complications arise, family and other loved ones willingly step in to help with household tasks, shopping, errands, and appointments. But what happens if there’s a serious decline in a senior’s health? Arrangements for informal care begin to break down as spouses and family members become exhausted. They look to the health-care system for relief…but too often, relief is a long time coming.

There’s a 99% occupancy rate in long-term care, and an average wait time of 2.9 years.


There are over 600 licensed long-term care facilities in Ontario, with over 77,000 beds for the frail elderly. That may sound like a large number, but it’s nowhere near to meeting the demand. The wait list for those beds currently stands at over 26,000 – in other words, we need 34% more long-term care beds than we have right now. And unless something changes, it’s going to get worse. Over the next 20 years, the baby boom generation will age and the proportion of seniors in the population will rise significantly.

In Ontario today, 26,500 seniors are waiting for long-term care.


As we tackle the shortage of long-term care, there’s another issue to be aware of. It’s not just more beds we need, but more skilled care. Long-term care residents require a lot of assistance – that’s why they can’t stay at home any more. Most residents have two or more chronic conditions and take multiple medications. Over 90% have cognitive impairment, and for 30%, the impairment is severe. Skilled care providers have a significant impact on resident well-being, but many long-term care facilities have only one Registered Nurse on staff. Our seniors deserve better.

There’s also the question of the number of hours of care that residents should be receiving. We know that seniors in nursing homes have more complex conditions now than they did before. To meet these needs, research indicates that residents should get 4 hours of direct care each day, and that 20 percent of that care should be delivered by skilled registered nurses. This won’t happen without regulation and adequate funding.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association continues to lobby the government for better long-term care – more funding for beds and appropriate levels of skilled care. Add your voice to the campaign. Together we can make a difference.