Solve the social services mystery

Four years ago, I became my mother’s full-time caregiver. Eventually, I realized she would need the full-time care of a nursing home, but by then, I had fallen ill and found myself in need of assistance as well.

What I discovered along the way is the overwhelming and confusing maze of social services. Who do you contact? How do you find a nurse and/or homemaker? What about bath rails, walkers, wheelchairs?

Here’s what you need to know about social services and how to access them if you’re a caregiver or in need of care. The information pertains to the province of Ontario, but all provinces and territories have similar services.

Where to start
Your local Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) or Regional Health Authority (RHA) is the source for everything you need unless you are hiring private help (for which you will pay through the nose). Call the centres directly, and they will arrange an interview with you or, if applicable, the person for whom you are caring to determine the level of assistance needed. Services offered by the CCACs include:

• Arranging nursing, homemaking, physiotherapy, eech therapy and other care.
• Helping to rent or buy mobility aids, bed and bath rails, and prostheses.
• Arranging for admittance to nursing homes or obtaining palliative care.
• Referrals to other community agencies and services.
• Paying for transportation to medical appointments, ambulances and portable oxygen.

If you are a caregiver and need time off or help around the house, the centres can provide help. There are also “day-away” programs for people with dementia. These precious hours alone for caregivers may cost a small amount, but it’s worth every penny.

Long-term care
CCACs and RHAs have lists of all long-term care facilities in and around your community, including the number of beds or spaces available. You pay full freight if you can afford it, but governments contribute if your income is low. On your visit to potential facilities, be sure to bring a checklist (safety, friendliness, cleanliness, food quality, etc.). Your case manager can advise you about the waiting list, resident-nurse ratios and things such as smoking rules.

In-home care
If you or your loved one has had an accident, operation or debilitating illness but are not ready for long-term care, the CCAC or RHA can provide in-home nursing, personal care and housekeeping. The services in-home nurses can provide include:

• Changing and refilling intravenous medication.
• Changing dressings and cleaning wounds.
• Administering enemas and changing colostomy bags.
• Checking vital signs.
• Administering drugs.
• Providing end-of-life care.

If what you require is help around the house, homemakers will provide:

• Bathing, hair and skin care.
• Housekeeping.
• Shopping and meal preparation assistance.

The bottom line
Sandra Golding, executive director of the Ottawa CCAC, says that since 1998, their client base has grown by eight per cent a year, with about 2,500 nurses, homemakers and other contract caregivers serving 14,000 clients, assisting 160 with long-term care and helping those referred to or coming from other CCACs.

She estimates the percentage will grow to 16 per cent in 2016 and 19 per cent in 2021. But, she cautions, research shows boomers will be more active in their later years and may make different demands on the health system. The immigrant population hasn’t yet had an impact on the numbers, but it may be due to many new residents being unaware of available services.

Marian Johns, a social worker in Ottawa, has a caseload of 50 to 60 people. And there are 90 clients on the waiting list. “A lot of us are aware of the shortcomings,” she says. “It’s very difficult to navigate the system, especially for immigrant women, many of whom don’t speak English or French. I want to help.”

First things first
Here’s how to locate the CCAC or RHA serving your area:

• Newfoundland and Labrador: 709-729-3105, Click here
• Prince Edward Island: 902-368-4900, Click here
• Nova Scotia: 1-800-387-6665, Click here
• New Brunswick: 506-453-2536, Click here
• Quebec: 1-800-363-1363, Click here
• Ontario: INFOline 1-800-268-1154, Click here
• Manitoba: 1-866-626-4862, Click here
• Saskatchewan: 1-800-667-7766, Click here
• Alberta: 310-0000, Click here
• British Columbia: 1-800-465-4911, Click here
• Yukon: 1-800-661-0408, local 5330, Click here 
• Northwest Territories: 1-867-873-7817, Click here
• Nunavut Health and Social Services: 867-975-5750, Click here