New Brunswick

Liberals recycle nursing home campaign pledge they made and broke a decade ago

It's been the most popular pledge to make — and then break — in recent provincial election campaigns, but New Brunswick voters are being assured that a pricey expansion of staffing at provincial nursing homes is a promise that will be kept this time.

Both Liberals and NDP pledge to increase funding for hours of care

Liberal Party leader Brian Gallant poses for pictures in Saint-Louis-de-Kent on Sunday prior to announcing a plan to spend $27 million to increase nursing home resident care to 3.5 hours per day. Liberals made the same promise in 2006, but broke it following the election. (Radio-Canada)

It's been the most popular pledge to make — and then break — in recent provincial election campaigns, but New Brunswick voters are being assured that a pricey expansion of staffing at provincial nursing homes is a promise that will be kept this time. 

"I am very confident this commitment will be honoured," said Liberal campaign spokesperson Greg Byrne, at the party's headquarters in Fredericton on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Liberal leader Brian Gallant said if re-elected his government will increase care for nursing home residents to 3.5 hours per day, a 12.9 per cent increase over current levels. It's a pledge the NDP and Green Party have also made.

Not the first time

It's the fourth time the commitment has been made to New Brunswick voters since the 2006 election campaign by one of the two main parties, three times by Liberals and once by Progressive Conservatives. But both took turns abandoning the pledge after winning elections — Liberals in 2006 and PCs in 2010 — because of its significant cost.

Liberals did not make the promise in the 2014 election campaign but have revived it this year.

"Investing to give staff more time to care for each nursing home resident will give seniors and their families a better quality of life," said Gallant on Sunday, without any reference to his party's previous failure to honour the same commitment a decade ago. 

Former Finance Minister Greg Byrne had to break an identical promise to increase funding for nursing home residents as part of Shawn Graham's Liberal government, but he says it will not happen again. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Byrne is a former finance minister in the Liberal government that broke the nursing home staffing promise under then Premier Shawn Graham but insists there is no chance of that flip-flop being pulled again if the party wins office this time.

"I'm going to speak on behalf of the Gallant government and it plans to honour this commitment," said Byrne. "I think people aren't really interested in what happened two successive governments ago."

Gallant would not reveal the plan's expected cost while making the announcement over the weekend despite being asked by reporters, but the party has subsequently priced it at $27 million per year once fully implemented in a document it filed with Elections NB.

Former Liberal leader Shawn Graham won a narrow victory in the 2006 provincial election and during the leaders' debate pledged his government would increase nursing home resident care to 3.5 hours per day by 2008. The promise went unfulfilled. (CBC)

The party proposes to implement the increased care gradually over eight years, adding $3.4 million in new spending each year until 2026. The NDP claims it would make the change immediately, in a single year.

Sought by operators

Nursing homes have been advocating for increased care for several years arguing that residents are entering facilities later in their lives with more acute needs than in previous years.

Jodi Hall, executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, said she's happy promises of greater care for residents are again being made by political parties but is worried about what kind of care politicians have in mind.

Nursing homes have been asking for enough funding to recruit more registered nurses in their facilities as part of any enhanced resident care package, but professional nurses cost twice as much to hire as so called "resident attendants."

Jodi Hall, executive director of the New Brunswick Nursing Home Association, says she's happy with the promise to increase care but raised concerns for the Liberals' eight-year timeline. (CBC)

Hall said in the past government has been reluctant to spend that extra money.

"It's more than just the number of minutes the care provider is at the bedside. It's who the care provider is," said Hall. "This is a critically important area."

Hall is also concerned with the eight-year long implementation period Liberals are proposing for new funding.

"We're pleased with the announcement, but there is a timeliness issue because the needs are there today and we know we have a workforce that is struggling with that workload."

An extra 24 minutes

Parties have not made specific promises on how many registered nursing positions would be funded under their plans, but have generally indicated it would be a higher percentage than existing ratios.

NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, right, announced her party would increase funding for nursing home resident care at a campaign stop in Moncton on Tuesday, matching a promise Liberals made on Sunday. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

Currently, government funds three hours and six minutes of care per resident per day in nursing homes, including 30 minutes of care by a registered nurse and 156 minutes from other caregivers, including licensed practical nurses and resident attendants.

Liberals and the NDP propose adding 24 minutes per day per resident to that total.

An additional minute every day adds up to an additional six hours per resident per year. Spread over more than 4,700 nursing home residents, that means each extra minute of daily care generates more than $1 million per year in staffing costs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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