Valuing health

Neena Chappell's research finds that social services that help keep people healthier longer hold the key to fighting skyrocketing hospital costs

Date published: 2006-04-27 10:25:59 AM

Canada is an aging society. Seniors make up 12 per cent of the population; they account for almost a third of hospital admissions and fully half the days spent in hospital. Given health care costs, it’s understandable that hospitals are discharging patients earlier while provincial governments redirect more funds to community-based care.

“But what kind of care?” asks Neena Chappell, recipient of several SSHRC grants and the first director of University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging. Her extensive research offers good news and bad news.

The good news is that home medical care for seniors does facilitate early hospital discharges and in general, with adequate support, people recover better in their own homes. The bad news is that the preventive services that help people to stay healthy in the first place are being cut back.

In British Columbia, at least, community social services for seniors are in danger of becoming primarily a medical support system that is swallowing resources for the preventive services that help people avoid hugely expensive hospital care.

According to Chappell, preventive health care can be both less expensive than medical care and of equal or higher quality. The facts now show that, when we look at the big picture, more medical technology is not always the best way to serve seniors or society as a whole.

Chappell’s research on aging also shows that the real bargain in seniors’ medical care is preventive measures in younger age groups.

"We should be looking at the middle-aged generation, in addition to seniors, if we really want to affect health and lifestyles, as well as prevent chronic illnesses in old age," she insists. “Usually in aging we just study the elderly, but we need to focus earlier in order to alleviate the financial and human costs that come with an aging population.”

Neena Chappell's research on health care and aging has been supported by nine SSHRC grants.