One of the more obvious trends affecting the nursing profession, and even the healthcare world, in general, is one of patient demographics.

The Canadian population is aging, with adults over the age of 85 representing the fastest growing age group of all. Naturally, as people age, their dependence on health care services increases accordingly. For the nursing profession, this represents a greater emphasis being placed on learning and understanding the issues that impact older adults. As well as the manpower required to do such task.

Canada faces an enormous demographic shift. Sometime between 2015 and 2021, there will be more people aged 65 and older than those 14 and under. Some of these seniors will be agile and healthy, while others will have numerous medical problems.

The aging demographic will be a test for Canada’s health-care system. It should be seen as an opportunity for a transformation in which innovations put patients first. Unless hospitals and health-care providers adapt, we will be doing a disservice to future generations. So what can we do to keep up and adapt to this trend? It would seem clear that in order to keep up with the demand in this area, we need more nurses…right?

Ok! But….

You need only to google “nursing shortage in Canada” to find that the supply of nurses in Canada has declined for the first time in almost 20 years. Why? Fewer students entering this profession for a variety of reasons, as well as an aging workforce. Therefore, overtime is on the rise. This of course leads to increases in the bank account along with recognition and nods of appreciation from co-workers… Along with an increase of injuries, fatigue and ultimately mistakes with medications, charting etc. It would then seem that this country needs to do a better job of managing the health-care workforce. Therefore, the decrease in nursing supply coupled with an aging and burned out workforce, and possibly fewer student nurses, would bring us to a need for a transition in our health care front-line. So now what? The answer would seem obvious.  We need to expand the roles for HCAs. We need to maximize and utilize their abilities.

To be eligible to work as a health care assistant (HCA) in any public health care setting in BC, applicants must be registered with the BC Care Aide & Community Health Worker Registry. Currently, private health care providers may hire HCAs who are not registered, but this could change at any time.

At a time when HCAs are providing up to 80% of the direct care to older Canadians living in long term care or in their homes, consistency in training and graduate outcomes are necessary to the continuity and quality of care. Under the protection of the Registry, HCA program recognition will ensure that all HCA programs in BC are following the provincial curriculum, implementing a common set of training standards and graduating competent front-line health care providers.

The Registry’s mandate of patient protection and standardized training for care aides and community health workers is part of a wider provincial commitment to improving the quality of seniors care, preventing elder abuse and, ultimately, to achieving the best possible health and safety for all British Columbians.

In other words, as HCAs and health care providers, we will be held accountable for our actions now more than ever before. As HCAs, their scope of practice will only increase as the roles of LPNs and RNs will also be held to a higher standard, expectation and demand.

So while we tackle this new trend in healthcare, with its aging population and changing demographic, we need to ask ourselves….are we utilizing our healthcare workforce to the best of our ability?

Pamela Schutz, LPN