An aging population, a demand for more care at home, and a shortage of nursing home spaces are all problems facing Ontario’s seniors.

But those seniors who need medical care have a new option in our region.

A program that's been running out of Barrie's Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre for about a year means more support at home. 

Allenby Boake is 95 years old. He's been in hospital for about a week, but to him it feels much longer.

“It seems like several years,” he says. “It's just that I wasn't feeling well.”

Stomach pains brought Boake to RVH. He was diagnosed with a blood infection.

He's still a little weak, but he’s heading home thanks to the Community Care Access Centre's 'Home First' program.

It's an option that lets people get out of the hospital and back where they want to be – home – with extra help.

“It is a relief,” says Jennifer Sneddon, CCAC client care coordinator. “Patients and caregivers oftentimes come into the hospital when overwhelmed. We want to decrease some of that stress so they can improve their function and recover from their acute care illness at home.”

Home is where Boake will now see his personal support worker three times a week. He's feeling much better, and so is his wife Ruth, who was nervous about leaving her husband alone at home.

“Because I'm afraid he'll fall and he says if he does, he'll just get up but I'm not so sure,” Ruth Boake says. “I've thought about getting an alarm with him but I’m not so sure he would remember to press it.”

Personal Support Worker

However, Monday afternoons Boake can step out and Eryn Fraser stops by for a few hours to keep her husband company.

She also makes sure he's safe.

“Just to give the families peace of mind that when they are here, when they are home alone, should they have any issues we're here to either prevent them or help them,” Fraser says.

There are 14 CCACs in Ontario. The system helps connect seniors like Allenby Boake to health care services that are available.

Through Home First, seniors can get healthcare from nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists – basically, a team to help them recover and keep them out of hospital.

And this extra home support is something new. Home First only started a year ago at RVH in Barrie. The program is just getting started in Collingwood. It's not available anywhere else yet in the North Simcoe-Muskoka

“So in these communities, we can put in additional personal support hours to support patients at home,” says Wendy McLaughan, CCAC client services. “At home, 24 hours – not for 24 hours a day but at times throughout the day and into the evening and into the overnight as needed.”

Signing Seniors Up

At RVH, 167 seniors have used this new program so far.

“In our elderly population, all of these people are at home and they're acutely ill,” says Dr. Jim Shaver, chief of staff at RVH. “And their ability to function might drop a bit too. So we can get them back physically better, but a lot of that functional stuff is a bit challenging for them.”

That's what Boake is getting help with at home. He's building up his strength. The hope is he won't end up back in a hospital bed.

Seniors who aren't well enough to be home, or who are waiting for space in a nursing home, often have to stay for long stretches in hospital. This new program gives them another option. It's good for the patient and it frees up hospital beds.

“Last year at this time, we had more than 50 people waiting at RVH to go to long term care,” says Paula Istead, director of patient flow RVH. “This time, this year, we have 23 people who are waiting for long term care, so it's a big change in our culture here. We used to feel that was the only option for some of these people.”

At the end of the day, what matters to the Boakes is that they're home, together.

And if they need help, the support is right there, in their living room.

A program similar to Home First is also available through hospitals in York Region.