New Brunswick's new Minister of State for Seniors is promising to increase the number of hoursthat home care workers spend with clients.

Mary Schryer says sending seniors home from hospital with extra support will help ease the crowding at hospitals in the Saint John region.

Schryer, who was elected as part of the Liberal government in September, served on the Saint John area health authority board for three years. She said many acute-care patients could leave hospitalsif they had more help meeting their basic needs.

"So that's where we're going to sort of zone in on, is how do we enhance home care services? You're looking at nursing homes, they're not always the answer.It's how do we maybe get people back into their own homes."

Saint John health authority CEO Dora Nicinski says 218 people are occupying acute-care beds, when they should be in long-term care.

Hospital occupancy is at 97 per cent, when it should be approximately 85 per cent, Nicinski said. She added the facilities cannot function normally with so many elderly people taking up beds.

Problem 'not going to go away': MLA

She saidthe numberof long-term patientsputs anextra strain on staff, and she's hoping for a quick solution to the problem. "We're just beginning to see the aging population coming through our health care system. This is not going to go away tomorrow, it's not going to go away next year, and it's not going to go away five years from now."

Schryer saidin addition to the extra hours home care workers can spend with clients, the provincial government will also investigate the possibility of wage increases for workers.Meanwhile, she says85 new nursing home beds expected to open soon in the Saint John region should provide short-term relief for the hospitals.