Most Canadians think this country needs a national strategy for seniors health care, believing such a plan would help keep seniors in their homes as long as possible, according to a new poll released by the Canadian Medical Association.

The Ipsos Reid poll was released along with the association's annual report card on health issues. It found that nine out of 10 Canadians feel that the entire health care system could be improved by keeping seniors at home as long as possible, to help lighten the load on hospitals and nursing homes.

It also revealed that only 37 per cent of Canadians have confidence in the ability of the current system to care for our aging population. As well, three-quarters of respondents said they were concerned for themselves about whether they would have access to high-quality health care in their retirement years.

Almost 80 per cent said they were concerned about having access to an acute care system, such as good quality hospital care, while almost an equal number worried about finding home care and long-term care.

Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says she’s not surprised the poll revealed so few Canadians feel confident about how they will be cared for in their senior years.

“It shows there’s an anxiety about what’s happening now and what’s going to happen in the future about the availability and quality of the health care that we’re expecting for our seniors,” she told CTV’s Canada AM Monday.

Meadus says there are a lot of vulnerabilities in the current health care system when it comes to seniors, including a shortage of long-term care beds in most provinces and an insufficient system of home care.

“Also, we need more intermediate care, such as assisted living or supportive housing for people who might need a little bit more care, can’t be in their home alone any longer -- to prevent them from going into long-term care. And we don’t have a lot of that in Canada,” she said.

The CMA poll found that 78 per cent of respondents thought Ottawa needs to play a significant role in developing a seniors’ health strategy, despite the federal government’s stand that health is strictly a provincial matter.

CMA President Dr. Anna Reid says all levels of government need to act to address “the demographic tsunami” that is heading toward the health care system as aging baby boomers hit their most vulnerable years.

“The anxiety Canadians have about health care in their so-called golden years is both real and well-founded,” Reid said in a statement. “Let there be no doubt that a national strategy for seniors health care should be a federal priority.”

Meadus says that while it’s the provinces’ role to deliver health care, she believes there should be something in the Canada Health Accord that promises seniors will have access to care in their golden years.

There also needs to be more recognition among health care professionals about the very different needs seniors have when it comes to health care, she said.

“One of things we don’t do in Canada very well is to teach our health professionals about geriatrics,” Meadus said.

She notes the majority of a hospital health care professional’s day is spent on seniors, “and yet we don’t have mandatory geriatric training for any of our health professionals. It doesn’t make sense.”

With the coming “silver tsunami,” Meadus says she’d like to see more geriatrics training in medical schools and nursing schools.

“When you look at how many times seniors go into hospital and the kind of care they need, we really need to make sure everyone is ready for that,” she said.

The Ipsos Reid telephone poll of 1,000 Canadian adults was conducted between July 17 and 26. The results are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times of 20.