New Brunswick will get nearly 300 new nursing home beds under a plan announced Thursday by the province.
The government plans to spend $400 million over the next five years to build two new long-term care facilities and overhaul most of the existing ones, said Minister of State for Seniors Brian Kenny.
It is the largest and most comprehensive plan ever undertaken for nursing homes in New Brunswick, he told the crowd gathered at the Loch Lomond Villa in Saint John.
"With New Brunswick's senior population expected to double over the next 20 years, the capital renewal and replacement plan for nursing homes has arrived at a critical point in the delivery of long-term care services," he said.
The two new facilities, to be built in Neguac and Dieppe, are expected to be complete by 2016-17, Kenny said between cheers and applause.
About 53 of the 62 non-profit nursing homes across the province will be replaced, expanded or renovated, he said.
Elizabeth Warman, a resident at the Villa, is thrilled.
"There's so many seniors in the province of New Brunswick that need nursing homes, and they're in hospitals and need beds and can't get in. So, this is a good part of a good announcement," she said.
In the Saint John health region alone, which stretches between Sussex and St. Stephen, about 200 seniors are currently on waiting lists for a nursing home bed.
Construction is scheduled to begin on some of the homes this spring, but the spending will be spread over five years, which has some people worried.
"I'm a little bit skeptical," said Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights.
"If we have an election, what happens to these announcements? I don't see a vision as to whether this will be carried on if there is a change in government.
"We're talking about seniors, and seniors are the ones who deliver votes, so we certainly shouldn't be playing politics with seniors," she said.
Under the plan, 11 nursing homes will be replaced, five will undergo major additions, 31 will be renovated and six will receive minor repairs.
The Loch Lomond Villa, one of the largest seniors care homes in New Brunswick, will be among the first to benefit from the spending, said Kenny.
Within two years, a new, 100-bed wing will open across the street from its existing location on Loch Lomond Road, he said.
The $75-million project will also replace parts of the existing facility, which has some wings that are 40 years old, with hallways so narrow that residents' wheelchairs scratch the walls and roof leaks that scar the ceilings.
Kenny said the new structure will provide more spacious facilities, new equipment and better ventilation, improved quality of space and more privacy and personal space for residents.
It's been a long time coming for seniors, said Villa CEO Cindy Donovan.
"They need to have some dignity and respect, and what we're building will give them that," she said.
The five-year plan is expected to create an estimated 3,600 construction jobs.