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'The only option was for me to come home': Report says caregivers need much more support


A new report is painting a stunning picture of the huge contributions unpaid caregivers are providing to the health-care system, but says they need much more support from all levels of government to keep going.

"If every caregiver took a week off, the whole system would collapse by noon on the first day," said Liv Mendelsohn, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence, which released the white paper.

Among the findings:

  • One in four Canadians is a caregiver; one in two will become one.
  • Caregivers spend 5.7 billion hours caring for people in their lives (4.2 per cent of GDP) valued at $97.1B annually.
  • $1.3B is lost in productivity per year. This is equivalent to over half a million employees dropping out of the labour force.
  • More than 7.8 million Canadians over the age of 15 provide approximately 20 hours a week of unpaid care.               
  • There is a 25 per cent shortage of paid care workers, with good reason. The work is hard, wages are low and job security is minimal.
  • Only 50 per cent of care providers remain in the sector for more than five years, often citing burnout due to staffing challenges as key reason to leave.

None of it is surprising to Paula Blackmore, who moved back to Nova Scotia from Ottawa to care for her mother, Martha, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2015.

"We had aunts and nieces and private care, and just, as I mentioned with the pandemic, the only option we had was for me to come home," said Blackmore.

"Mom is in her latest stages of this illness, however, we do everything we can to even support Mom. Like, she still gets to go out on walks. She still participates in community events."

Although providing care is undoubtedly a labour of love for the millions who provide it, it comes with a cost.

"About 90 per cent of them report feeling isolated, two thirds of them have reported deterioration in their mental health, and half of them have reported deterioration in their physical health," said Mendelsohn.

As bad as that is, things are worse around the Maritimes, mostly because of the region's aging population.

"We know there's about one in three Nova Scotians who are caregivers, and we know that, even if you're not actively caregiving right now, you may be caregiving some day, or may need a caregiver," said Jenny Theriault, the executive director of Caregivers Nova Scotia.

The group released its own fact sheet in January of 2020.

Nova Scotia does offer a caregiver benefit, but many other provinces do not.

In a statement, Nova Scotia's Departments of Health and Wellness and Seniors and Long-term Care told CTV News, "We know many Nova Scotians provide some level of care to their loved ones, often sacrificing their own time and resources to do so. They deserve our gratitude and admiration for the role they play day in and day out. Government offers programs for homecare needs to individuals and those caring for them, and we are continually looking at these initiatives to ensure they are providing the support Nova Scotians need. We have just received the report and staff will be reviewing its findings."

“The Giving Care white paper confirms that policy action is the only viable solution to close the gaps that are leaving caregivers, care providers and care recipients in dire circumstances," said Mendelsohn. "The crisis is here, and support is needed now.”

It's something Paula Blackmore agrees with.

"Caregiving in Canada, you know, it's very important. It's something that I feel is overlooked. Caregivers play very important roles in supporting our families and helping to maintain as they age, and with the movement toward aging well and aging at home, it's important that we have the funding and assistance programs in place to support all caregivers," she said. Top Stories

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