Growth in nursing workforce unlikely to keep up with demand for seniors care

May/June 2017   Comments

The demand for nursing services for seniors is expected to increase at a faster rate than the supply of regulated nurses as Canada’s population ages. That’s according to a recent Conference Board of Canada report, which was co-sponsored by CNA.

“Canada’s aging population will cause a dramatic rise in demand for continuing care, and services provided by regulated nurses are an important component of that,” said Louis Thériault, the Conference Board of Canada’s vice-president of public policy.

As providers of direct clinical acute, chronic, rehabilitative and palliative care, RNs, nurse practitioners, licensed/registered practical nurses and registered psychiatric nurses are at the forefront of care and support for seniors. They also provide numerous other services and supports, including case management, care coordination, supervision, education and administration within the continuing care spectrum.

The report, Future Care for Canadian Seniors: A Primer on Nursing Supply and Demand, provides an estimate of what demand for nurses in continuing care could look like as the population ages. Currently, more than 1.4 million Canadian seniors need and receive paid and unpaid continuing care supports. The Conference Board predicts this figure could increase by 71 per cent by 2026. Recent federal-provincial agreements to expand home- and community-based care services and implement dementia and palliative care strategies are part of what’s driving the increased need for nursing services.

Under a status quo scenario, overall demand for nursing in providing continuing care to seniors in home, community and facility-living environments is projected to increase — from about 64,000 full-year (full-time, part-time and casual) jobs in 2011 to more than 142,000 full-year jobs by 2035. That’s an annual growth rate of 3.4 per cent. In comparison, the regulated nursing workforce collectively had an average annual increase of two per cent between 2010 and 2015.

“Addressing the labour demands for nursing will be essential for Canada to successfully meet the care needs of its seniors,” Thériault said.

That will include addressing numerous issues affecting the supply of nurses, including workload, isolation, wage gaps between institutional and home care settings, and safety.

The report indicates more nursing workforce data and research are needed for continuing care to support planning, regulation, management and policy development of community and home care health-systems reform.

The benchmark data is needed “to adequately address nurse recruitment and retention in continuing care settings, gerontology education and training, the use of technology and innovative models of care delivery,” CNA president Barb Shellian said.

The executive summary of the 60-page report explains:

As delivery models inform staff-mix decision-making, it is important to understand relationships between organizations, their approach to care delivery, and the associated staff mix. With shifts from acute care to community care settings, new delivery models, and initiatives such as a national dementia strategy, it will be important to understand the associated impacts on the nursing workforce.

In partnership with the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Canadian Home Care Association, CNA has called for the development of proficiency and leadership skills for regulated health-care providers through standards in training, education and practice in Better Home Care in Canada: A National Action Plan.

“Optimizing the nursing scope of practice must become a national priority for our country in order to face these challenges,” Shellian said.

The Conference Board report is part of the Future Care for Canadian Seniors research series by the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care.

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