Urgent action is needed to deal with the "triple whammy" hitting care homes and domiciliary care companies, the chairman of Care Forum Wales has said.
Mario Kreft claimed the industry faced chronic underfunding, issues surrounding staff pay increases and a rise in the number of elderly people.
According to Public Health Wales, the number of aged 85 or over will reach 184,000 by 2036 - up 145% since 2011.
The Welsh Government said the sector was neither "dysfunctional or failing".
Mr Kreft said the ageing population, a lack of funding and resources and a major recruitment problem meant the profession was facing a "crisis" unlike any he has seen before.
Giving staff a pay increase to account for the living wage would also have "a knock-on effect", he said, adding social care was at "a tipping point".
Mr Kreft said the care sector "underpinned" the NHS and as winter pressures loomed, he feared the system did not have the staff or resources to cope.
"Currently we feel the system isn't working," he told BBC's Good Morning Wales programme.
"The figures are not adding up. We have seen over the last few winters huge pressures on the NHS - that's no criticism on anybody, it's simply a matter of fact.
"We have seen huge queues here in Wrexham, across north Wales, across south Wales, of people waiting to be discharged [from hospital].
"What we're saying is, without the 12,000 nursing beds, without the 12,000 residential care beds, without all of the domiciliary care providers who enable people to remain in their own homes where would we be?
"The system has to be considered as a system of national strategic importance."
Tina Donnelly, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Wales, described the care sector as an "essential part" of the NHS.
She said robust planning was needed to help deal with increased pressures from an aging population and that recruitment challenges needed to be tackled.