Wait lists to get into one of Nova Scotia's long-term care facilities are growing and a study of the problem has found the Cape Breton District Health Authority is failing to meet provincial objectives in terms of nursing home occupancy rates and turnaround times to fill vacated beds.

"For us this has been an ongoing challenge, not only in our district but across the province," said Greg Boone, a spokesman for the Cape Breton District Health Authority.

Using data collected last fall, an industrial engineering study was prepared in February and released to CBC News under access-to-information laws.

The study examined the process used to admit the elderly to long-term care facilities within the Cape Breton District Health Authority.

As of Nov. 30, 2010, 486 people in the district were on a waiting list for a nursing home bed. The current number of people on the waiting list is 474.

In a sample of 44 admissions, the study found eight met the provincial standard of admission within five days of a bed becoming vacant. On average, it took 10 days to fill a vacant bed — one bed took 32 days to fill.

The Cape Breton District Health Authority has 17 long-term care facilities. The two largest — the Harbourstone Enhanced Care Facility in Sydney and the Seaview Manor Home for Special Care in Glace Bay — met the provincial goal of 99.2 per cent occupancy during one of the six months studied.

The internal report said, "The data indicates that within CBDHA, the placement process is challenged in meeting the provincial objective" of maintaining a 99.2 per cent occupancy rate.

Processing unsuccessful offers is 'waste'

Bureaucrats, social workers and nursing home officials are often bogged down in preparing unsuccessful offers to people on waiting lists.

"The time spent processing unsuccessful offers is a pure form of system waste; it in no way contributes to filling vacated beds," the report concluded.

The study said patients decline offers of a vacant bed for a variety of reasons while others defer being transferred, in many cases creating "excess work" in the system.

The report makes eight recommendations to speed up the process, including standardizing criteria so that only clients who meet all criteria for admission get on the waiting list. That would eliminate the need for nursing homes to carry out independent assessments.

"The number of activities completed during a bed vacancy between client discharge and client admission must be minimized, as bed turnaround time is not considered value added. This includes restructuring the process as to when certain events occur as well as eliminating some activates altogether," the report said.

"It's certainly something we adapted and adjusted and we'll see what our next steps will be," Boone told CBC News.

As of the fall, 1,971 people were on a wait list for a long-term care bed in Nova Scotia. In the Halifax area, 619 were waiting. The study said if the wait list included people who are considered potential clients and those who have been temporarily deferred, the provincial total would climb to 2,861.