Caregiving: Ontario’s not-so-quiet crisis

Caregiving is sometimes referred to as the quiet crisis; a crisis that is smoldering below the surface and which requires urgent attention and action to avoid a catastrophic result.

With the release of The Change Foundation’s recent report, Spotlight on Ontario Caregivers, there is a shift happening across the province. There is an important conversation taking place that centres around the needs of Ontario’s 3.3 million caregivers – the family members, partners, friends or neighbours who provide personal, social and psychological support to someone in need.

We can argue that caregivers are the single most valuable resource in our health care system. With family caregivers providing roughly three quarters of all patient care, they are enabling loved ones to remain in their home and are providing the personal, emotional and often the medical care their loved one needs, regardless of whether they know how or feel confident in their abilities to do so. Caregivers invest 11 to 30 hours a week, on average. When we calculate the hours using minimum wage, their contribution is estimated to be $26 – $72 billion dollars a year, but their contribution extends far beyond the health care system. Caregivers provide an invaluable service to their loved one, their community and society at large.

The Change Foundation’s report shines a light on the state of caregiving in Ontario and reinforces the urgent need to act. While the report indicates that most caregivers find the role rewarding, it also indicates caregivers are overwhelmed and frustrated in their role. For many, caregiving is having a negative effect on their own physical and mental health. It also has a negative effect on their jobs, personal relationships and finances. Caregivers are burning-out, and while 50 per cent indicate they have talked to their doctor about their ability to physically and emotionally handle this job, others have never had this conversation and continue to suffer in silence. According to Health Quality Ontario’s recent Measuring Up report, caregiver distress is on the rise, with one in four caregivers now experiencing distress, anger or depression, up from one in five in 2013.

The message is clear. Our single most valuable resource is in crisis. 

Shining a light on the issues facing caregivers and understanding the situation in our province is important. It is the underpinning we need in order to take effective action.

The Ontario Caregiver Organization has been created to help make it easier for family caregivers. Our focus will be on raising awareness of the caregiving role, connecting caregivers to information and supports and helping to bridge the services available so all caregivers, regardless of age, condition or where they live have access to the same resources. We are not here to duplicate services that already exist, but rather to work with organizations who share the same vision and want to find new and innovative ways to expand the existing services that are already valued by caregivers. Our way forward will be rooted in the authentic voice of caregivers and we will use that voice to inform policy and legislation. While this will take time, we are committed to working with caregivers and service providers to make positive and meaningful change.

As part of the early work of the organization, we are building awareness of existing programs and supports that are available to caregivers, creating a caregiver advisory structure so all caregivers have the opportunity to share their voice and contribute to issues that matter to them. We are also starting to identify opportunities to partner with organizations to expand existing programs and services, so all caregivers have fair access to what they need.

The volume has been turned up on the quiet crisis that is caregiving. We’re excited to see momentum building across the province and a greater focus being placed on supporting caregivers in their important role.