Nova Scotia

Province awaits review results as it considers next steps to guard long-term care against COVID

Health Minister Randy Delorey says it's too soon to know if all long-term care rooms in Nova Scotia need to be single occupancy, or if that would even be possible, ahead of a potential second wave of COVID-19.

Health Department looking at further partnerships with private sector

Northwood's long-term care facility in Halifax has approximately 485 residents in two separate buildings. (Robert Short/CBC)

Health Minister Randy Delorey says it's too soon to know if all long-term care rooms in Nova Scotia need to be single occupancy, or if that would even be possible, ahead of a potential second wave of COVID-19.

On Thursday, Delorey told reporters that his department is awaiting the results of two reviews — one focused specifically on the outbreak at Northwood and the other on infection prevention and control within any long-term care site.

The outbreak at Northwood in Halifax resulted in the deaths of 53 residents. A total of 246 residents and 99 staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Both reviews are due next month. Only the recommendations will be made public.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says homes have discretion in easing restrictions. (CBC)

In terms of preparation for what might be coming, the minister said much of the work that happened through the first pandemic wave will simply continue. That will include public health orders and policy changes within individual sites, and the sector in general, for issues such as infection control.

"Those things that we've done, that we've learned through the first wave, are really still there to prepare us for the second [wave]," he said.

Policies would be changed and updated as public health officials gather more information about the disease, in tandem with the results of the two reviews, he said.

Delorey said his department is trying to find a balance between combating COVID-19 and the reality that there is only so much capacity within the system and that people need care. This is happening against the backdrop of a growing number of people taking up acute-care hospital beds while they await a long-term care placement.

"I don't know that it would be practical to, again, in any short order, move [entirely] to single rooms."

Must find capacity within the system

Premier Stephen McNeil's government has yet to build a single new long-term care bed since coming to power in 2013, choosing instead to focus on expanding home-care services.

While the government has announced plans for new beds in various parts of the province, none will be open prior to the arrival of a potential second wave of COVID-19 this fall.

"We have to find capacity within existing infrastructure," said the minister.

Delorey said his department is looking at other options, such as partnerships with the private sector similar to the announcement earlier this year of 23 beds being licenced and used on a floor at a Shannex facility in Bedford.

The department has issued a request for information to the long-term care sector as officials try to solicit proposals to gauge whether similar possibilities exist elsewhere to help increase capacity in the short term.

The minister noted that vacancies have been maintained at Northwood in an effort to try to help give the site the space to deal with any further COVID-19 cases. Northwood, the province's largest long-term care facility, also has the most double rooms, as well as some triple rooms.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he remains troubled by the government's approach to the issue.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill is concerned about the growing number of people waiting in hospital beds for a long-term care placement. (CBC)

The NDP issued a news release Thursday that said a recent freedom of information request filed by the party yielded a response saying the government does not have, or track, the number of long-term care residents in shared occupancy rooms.

"This speaks, from my point of view, of a profound neglect and a failure to provide to long-term care the sense of priority that it has in the hearts of the people in Nova Scotia," Burrill told reporters outside Province House.

He said he's particularly troubled by the growing number of people waiting in acute-care beds for a long-term care placement to become available.

"And these are all people who are paying nursing home rates, long-term care facility rates, to be left in this situation," he said.

"So, I think we need to ask, 'Does this care meet the standard of care that we have as … people of Nova Scotia for those who are going into long-term care?' And I think surely the answer is that it doesn't."