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Staffing woes need to be addressed in Liberal nursing home plan, says opposition

As the Liberals slowly roll out their five-year nursing home plan, opposition parties are left with more questions than answers about the overall vision. Among the pressing issues in need of addressing is staffing, they say.

On this week's Political Panel podcast, minister defends leaning on for-profit care providers

The CBC New Brunswick Political Panel discussed what's been shared of the Liberals' five-year nursing home plan. (CBC News)

Listen to the full CBC New Brunswick Political Panel podcast by downloading from the CBC Podcast page or subscribing to the podcast in iTunes.

As the Liberals slowly roll out their five-year nursing home plan, opposition parties are left with more questions than answers about the overall vision.

Among the pressing issues in need of addressing is staffing, they say.

"Government is announcing new beds, but it's not clear how they're going to get new staff, given the working conditions in the nursing homes," Green Party Leader David Coon said on the CBC New Brunswick Political Panel podcast this week.

The 3.1 hours of nursing care per resident per day is "insufficient" and weakens the quality of care, said Coon, adding that figure is unknown in for-profit nursing homes because the contracts are kept secret by government.

He suggested increasing the number to 3.5 hours.

A 2010 government study examined a 3.5-hour model and found the additional time allowed for greater attention and care for residents while improving their quality of life.

"There is a crisis in staffing," Coon said. "They are not able to retain or recruit staff in the nursing homes like they need to."

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And staffing issues don't stop at nursing homes, said People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin. Another troubling problem is the recruitment and retention of home care workers when the pay is near minimum wage, he said.

"It blows my mind that we will allow seniors to live in hospitals, some of whom can be brought back home with extra special attention brought [to] them if you pay your staff enough money," Austin said.

Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Lisa Harris, who represented the Liberals on the panel, recently announced a wage increase to $13 an hour for home care workers.

Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Lisa Harris said she has visited every nursing home in the province. (CBC )

Asked how to attract more workers, Harris said the government has to reach out into schools, community colleges and tap into immigration.

Details of plan

Progressive Conservative MLA Brian Macdonald said the province needs to put more emphasis on keeping seniors at home because the demand for nursing homes will only grow in coming years.

He said the Liberals might be addressing the issue, but he wouldn't know because they haven't released all of their plans.

The wage increase was one of the elements of the plan released since the Liberals announced the five-year plan on Feb. 1. Infrastructure is its main plank with the creation of more than 1,000 nursing home and memory care beds in the province by 2023, including 10 new 60-bed nursing homes.

Harris recently said the plan has yet to be finalized and will be released in its entirety prior to the election this summer.

New nursing homes will be built using the public-private partnership model, Harris said.

The deviation from a community-based nursing home model drew criticism from the other panellists, who took issue with the "corporatization" of senior care in the province.

NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie said the cash-strapped government has turned to for-profit nursing home providers, leaving seniors with few options when seeking care and having to pay inflated prices.

NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie said seniors will pay for the shift to private-sector nursing home providers. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

"It's the seniors who ultimately pay the price for this and it's the less affluent seniors who are not going to be able, eventually, to access the service they need," she said.

Harris defended the quality of senior care in New Brunswick, suggesting her counterparts were exaggerating, and the minister also defended for-profit providers, like Shannex, saying they offer a high-level of care to a province in need of more beds.

"It's no secret that we don't have a lot of money here," Harris said, "but we do have a lot of seniors who need nursing home beds."