May 2, 2011

Dear Northerners,

Great news to share this month – ALC numbers are down for the first time in years in our vast region of Northeastern Ontario!

ALC (Alternate Level of Care) patients are generally the frail elderly who remain in hospital beds after their acute care episode because there is no place for them to go –home with care support, assisted living apartment, a long-term care bed. So sadly, these frail elderly people stay in a hospital bed, where they can lay and wait for days, weeks, months and possibly years. When a person makes it through the acute stage of an illness, it’s better that they convalesce in the comfort of their own home. In fact, being in a hospital for too long can actually be detrimental to your health because of the risk of infection, loss of mobility, social isolation to name a few.

Typically, 60 per cent of our ALC pressures come from our four large urban centres -- North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins. Since August 2010, our percentage of Alternate Level of Care patients, mainly the frail elderly in acute care hospital beds waiting to go home, has been halved at our four urban hospitals dropping to 13 per cent.  That’s a welcome drop, given that our region has had the dubious distinction of being #1 when it comes to ALC numbers in Ontario!

Reducing ALC pressures means a more balanced health care system – patients flow in and out of hospitals more quickly, seniors and the frail elderly are cared for in community or better yet at home, and the continuum of care is able to stand by the principles of providing the right care, at the right time, in the right place for the right cost.

I congratulate the Northeastern Ontario teamwork that has produced this ALC result.  It’s thanks to the work of several ALC Community Steering Groups led by the NE LHIN, the efforts of our partners at the North East CCAC, the willingness of our community support services sector to deliver effective community-based services, the determination of our hospital partners, and the many valuable programs funded by the LHIN to target the needs of our elderly residents.

Just to name a few, NE LHIN-funded programs to tackle ALC pressures to date have included:

  • A new initiative called Home First which encourages seniors to return home quickly and safely with home support services after an acute episode in hospital;
  • A Geriatric Emergency Management Nurse in hospital emergency rooms;
  • Transportation services to drive seniors to and from medical appointments;
  • Nurse practitioners in long-term care homes;
  • More assisted living services;
  • More Long-Term Care Beds;
  • Respite services for caregivers;
  • Specialized Regional Geriatric services;
  • And more

In Northeastern Ontario, the forecast is that our population aged 65 and older – currently 17% – will soar to 30% by 2030.  That’s why we need to keep working together to deflate the ALC balloon.  We can, and we will, by staying the course with these and other successful strategies.

Louise Paquette