Victorian Order of Nurses: Instrumental to Canadian Healthcare Services


Almost daily, we read about Canada’s aging population and the impact it is going to have on our society, economy and health care system. By 2036, seniors will make up 25 per cent of the Canadian population. And as we know, the older we get, the more likely we are to have chronic conditions and illness. For example, today about 500,000 Canadians suffer from dementia, but this number will double by 2038.

Canadians have made it clear they prefer to age well at home, with proper supports if needed. In fact, home and community care is the fastest growing sector in the health care system. In spite of this, only about 4 per cent ($3.4 billion) of the $172 billion we spend on public health care goes towards home care – versus 28 percent on hospitals and 14 percent on physicians.

Yet research has demonstrated repeatedly that home care is often more cost effective than long-term or acute care in nursing homes or hospitals. One study estimated that caring for seniors at home could save the Ontario healthcare system an estimated $150 million annually. Another Canadian study showed that one-third of people waiting for a long-term care bed could be safely taken ‘off the list’ if proper home supports were in place.

As well as being cost effective, homecare is also care effective, and the desired alternative for most aging Canadians. Seniors with high-care needs or cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s, who live alone, are particularly vulnerable to emergency room visits, hospital admissions and long-term care placements. Proper home care supports, whether a visiting nurse, a personal support worker or a community day program, allow seniors to maintain their independence and better manage their health conditions. Comprehensive home supports also help family and friend caregivers better manage caring for loved ones while juggling work and personal responsibilities.

For these and many more reasons, VON advocates for comprehensive home and community care that is responsive to the unique needs of patients and integrated in the overall health care system. Currently, home and community care varies across the country.

What services you receive is very much dependent on who you are, where you live and what you can afford, e.g. co-payments for some services. A national approach to home and community care would ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live or what they can afford, have access to services that meet their health and social needs.

VON also advocates for corporations to better support their employees who are caregivers – to family and friends, children and seniors. Without their unpaid labour, the Canadian health system would be unable to cope with increasing demands for care. These caregivers often experience ongoing emotional, physical and mental strain. At the same time, employers and their bottom line are also affected by lost productivity, increased absenteeism, and/or the loss of experienced staff. In fact, the cost of absenteeism to employers is estimated to be $2.7 billion. Simple and effective ways to assist caregivers in balancing their paid work with their caring responsibilities can include flexible working practices, emergency leave, flexible leave arrangements, and workplace support policies/programs.

About VON

Every day some 5,500 staff and 9,000 volunteers work hard to make sure Canadians have access to supports that help them lead healthy and engaged lives. VON (Victorian Order of Nurses) was founded in 1897 and has been part of Canada’s health care system ever since. VON nurses were there during the Klondike Gold rush, the Halifax explosion and two world wars. A registered charity, with the mission Health Starts at Home, the organization now provides home and community care in thousands of communities across Canada.

Operating through 52 site offices, VON offers 75 different programs and services, many in partnership with provincial government, local communities and other health organizations. Programs are often tailored to the needs of individual communities and include:

Nursing – visiting nursing, foot care, health education, immunization
Home support – personal care, meal preparation
Community support and volunteer services – adult day programs, meals  on wheels, volunteer visiting, transportation
Caregiver supports and programs – respite care, education, caregiver resource website
Corporate health and wellness – flu and wellness clinics

VON’s workplace wellness programs are designed to be cost effective, promote positive change and improve employee morale, satisfaction and productivity According to the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, comprehensive workplace wellness programs can return up to $8 for every dollar invested.

Three years ago, VON developed Caregiver Connect ( as a resource for Canada’s three million unpaid caregivers who provide an estimated $25 billion of unpaid labour annually to our healthcare system. The website provides information on over 50 health conditions, with links to quality health associations and experts.  Issues of interest to caregivers are addressed, with links to practical resources. The website also provides easy-to-use caregiver templates to help organize important health and safety information.  

The SMART Program (Seniors Maintaining Active Roles Together®) is another innovative wellness program developed by VON.  Available in 23 communities across Canada, SMART promotes healthy aging through functional fitness programs for seniors who are unable to access regular community fitness programs.

Delivered primarily by volunteers who are often seniors themselves, SMART operates in both group and one-on-one settings and accommodates all levels of ability. A number of evaluations have proven the program’s positive impact on the lives and health of the about 4,800 participants. Managing Independent Living Easily (SMILE Program) Enables frail and It is VON’s thousands of volunteers who make many of these charitable and community programs possible.

They deliver the meals to those who need nutritious food; they give comfort to those with an incurable illness; they manage Alzheimer’s Day programs across the country that give the afflicted a focus and their caregivers a respite. The members of the 32 Community Boards play a key role by identifying community needs and developing strategies and programs to meet them. They are the vital link between VON and the communities served. 

As a charitable organization, VON relies on the generous support of individuals, organizations, service clubs and government agencies. For more information on VON, to become a volunteer, or to make a donation, visit