“For the first time, our society is being confronted with an ageing population, increased life expectancy and an ever-decreasing ratio of working-age people to retirees. Between 2019 and 2040, the number of people in nursing homes is projected to double. This will significantly impact nursing homes, a sector that is already facing major challenges: the growing demand for individual and neighbourhood healthcare, an increasing co-morbidity among residents, and a considerable shortage of personnel,” says Lander Vermeerbergen. The Assistant Professor of Organisational Design and Development at Radboud University worked together with other bodies, including the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, to explore the future of healthcare communities.
In late March, the researchers brought together 72 experts from various disciplines to start this exploration. In numerous sessions spread over two days, researchers collaborated with senior citizens, policymakers, healthcare professionals and others to envisage the future of intensive healthcare for elderly people.
The aim of this meeting was to bring together the various sectors. This is important for such a major social challenge: you can only solve it by including all target groups and addressing all problems. “We now tend to implement small changes given the scale and urgency of the challenge. But that is not future-proof and will yield suboptimal results,” cautions Patrick Vermeulen, Professor of Organisational Development and New Organisational Forms at Radboud University, who is also participating in the project.
New social contract
The meeting led to some initial insights. Vermeerbergen notes, “We need to establish a new social contract between the government, citizens and the healthcare market. What perspective can we offer elderly people in the future? How do we ensure it is sustainable and future-oriented? We also noted that much of today’s healthcare is organised in a highly specialised manner; everything happens in stand-alone silos, which can lead to the risk of double work. We have to transition to healthcare communities in which the care transcends these partitions.”
“Most important in this process is not to forget the human dimension. Policymakers must put themselves in the position of the people: what does a change in the healthcare offered truly mean to someone? Your policy should focus more on that. They should focus on personal experiences, emotions, and autonomy. What do you want to do with your life and what do you want with others? We need to move away from words such as ‘financing’ and ‘institutions’ towards a different, more meaningful language.”
Impending healthcare crisis
The researchers plan to develop these new insights into a new, workable healthcare model in the coming period. This will be done by identifying existing initiatives and studying their impacts as well as by studying the steps already taken in other European countries. “In the end, it’s not just about gaining knowledge but also about facilitating change: how can we transform insights into action? As researchers, we want to work with existing organisations in the sector, the government and citizens to offer a solution to the impending healthcare crisis.”