The Liberals are criticizing the way seniors who are waiting for nursing home spaces will be cared for in hospitals in the Horizon Health Network.

Horizon Health plans to create specialized units where those seniors can get the level of care they need while they wait. The plan is also intended to save money, a directive that has been delivered to all government departments and agencies.

But Liberal MLA Bill Fraser, the opposition’s health critic, said those seniors, who are often described as bed-blockers, take up beds that are needed by regular, acute-care hospital patients.

And, he said he fears the creation of these specialized units will make the problem permanent.

"The problem is, this is going to happen within the existing bed structure. We don't have a problem with them being dealt with efficiently, and providing them with a better level of service, but these beds need to be put in the community, not within the hospital," Fraser said.

Horizon Health has piloted this strategy for two years in Fredericton’s Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital. The project was announced by the former Liberal government.

But Fraser said he does not believe it's not a long-term solution.

The Liberal MLA said the Progressive Conservative government erred when it froze nursing home construction and renovations earlier this year.

Social Development Minister Sue Stultz started the review in the spring in an attempt to review all of the projects being done around the province to see if any could be scaled back to help reduce the government’s deficit

Stultz said in a recent interview the review is done and is scheduled to be released within the next month.

Clustering bed blockers

The patients are often described as bed blockers because the seniors are in need of a specialized level of care but they have no nursing home to go to. So instead, they take up beds in hospitals, often scattered throughout the facilities.

Horizon Health will now "cluster" them in wings or units of hospitals, which has been done in Fredericton in recent years.

Nancy Savage, a vice-president at Horizon Health, said last week the Fredericton initiative will now be applied in five other hospitals.

"If these folks are indeed going to be within our walls, what is the best method of care to look after them to meet their needs while they wait?" she said.

The new policy was announced earlier in October as a broad package of reforms that Horizon Health said would be implemented to save $4 million.