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With Ontario's senior population about to spike, report predicts big demand for home care

Ontario will see a spike in demand for home-care workers over the next few years as its population of seniors increases sharply, according to a new report by health economists. 

Number of people age 75+ in the province forecast to rise by 350,000 in next 5 years

Ontario to face a spike in demand for personal support workers over the next few years

2 months ago
Duration 2:12
According to a new report, Ontario will see a spike in demand for home-care workers over the next few years as its population of seniors increases sharply. CBC’s Clara Pasieka dives into how the province's aging population will affect the home care system.

Ontario will see a spike in demand for home-care workers over the next few years as its population of seniors increases sharply, according to a new report by health economists. 

The report, to be released Monday, includes demographic projections that suggest both the over-65 and over-75 populations will rise at notably faster annual rates in Ontario in the next five years than they will at any time in the next two decades.

Combining that demographic trend with evidence showing Ontarians use more health-care resources as they age, the report says the province will need to see a substantial increase in personal support workers (PSWs) and other home-care staff just to maintain current levels of service.  

The report, called The Impact of Ontario's Aging Population on the Home Care Sector, comes from two economics professors at McMaster University — Arthur Sweetman and Boris Kralj — and was commissioned by Home Care Ontario, the umbrella group representing home care agencies.

A closeup photo of a home health aide's hands massaging a senior's fingers.
The expected rapid growth in Ontario's population of seniors means the province will need a substantial increase in the number of home care workers just to maintain current levels of service, says a new report coming Monday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

"We need substantial growth in all the workers, all the types of occupations that work in home care," Sweetman said in an interview.

"It's not something that's going to happen way down the road. We are at the peak years right now," he said.

From 2024 to 2029, Ontario will need another 6,800 PSWs to maintain the status quo level of home-care service, the report finds.

"The need for additional staff is very likely similar for nursing, therapists, and other health professionals working in the home care sector," the authors write. 

Move could ease hospital burden, report says

The report says more PSWs will also be needed for long-term care homes and hospitals, but does not project how many. 

Until now, much of the attention to Ontario's ongoing health-care staffing crunch has focused on the province's hospitals. Monday's report argues that beefing up the home-care workforce can help reduce the burden on hospitals and other parts of the health system. 

Proper management of chronic conditions like diabetes keeps people out of hospital, and effective home care can be key to managing those conditions, said Sweetman, who is McMaster's Ontario research chair in health human resources.  

"You can relieve the pressure on emergency departments and on general practitioners as well," he said. 

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The chief executive of Home Care Ontario, Sue VanderBent, said the report demonstrates how dramatically the home-care workforce will need to increase. 

"It means we have to staff up massively. We have to get enough people, enough personal support workers, nurses, therapists, home care staff to be able to meet the demand," VanderBent said in an interview. 

She points to the report's projections that Ontario's population of seniors will grow by 650,000 in just five years — a 23 per cent increase, while the population of people age 75 and up will grow by 350,000 in the same time frame — a 27 per cent increase. 

"We've been ringing the alarm bell about the coming tsunami and here it is in black and white," VanderBent said. "The senior tsunami is not something that's happening 10 or 15 years from now, it's happening today."

Photo of Sue VanderBent
'The senior tsunami is not something that's happening 10 or 15 years from now, it's happening today,' said Sue VanderBent, president and CEO of Home Care Ontario, an umbrella group of agencies that provide home care. (Claude Beaudoin/CBC)

Ontario's Ministry of Health said in February 2023 that it was working on a health care human resources capacity plan, but it hasn't yet been released. 

"We are analyzing current gaps in our system, anticipating needs over the next 10 years and determining solutions to address growing health care demands," said the government in its Your Health plan. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.

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