Nova Scotia

Deputy health minister Peter Vaughan slams long-term care system

Nova Scotia's continuing care system got a rough ride Wednesday by the man responsible for overseeing it.

Vaughan describes the system not only as 'inefficient and unsustainable' but 'unfair'

Peter Vaughan, the deputy minister of health, described the continuing care system not only as "inefficient and unsustainable" but also "unfair." (CBC)

Nova Scotia's continuing care system got a rough ride Wednesday by the man responsible for overseeing it.

Peter Vaughan, the deputy minister of health, described the system not only as "inefficient and unsustainable" but also "unfair."

He was testifying before the legislature's Public Accounts Committee.

In his opening address on Wednesday, Vaughan told provincial politicians that continuing care programs and services cost taxpayers more than $800 million or 20 per cent of Nova Scotia's entire health budget.

He says the province's aging population will further strain resources.

"If the province continues under the current model, costs will continue to rise and services for seniors could become even harder to access," said Vaughan.

Seniors now make up 17 per cent of Nova Scotia's population.  

Despite having added or replaced almost 1,600 nursing home beds over the past decade, Vaughan says 2,126 people are on wait lists for a bed.

He said adding more beds is not the answer.

"Nova Scotia has the highest number of long-term care beds per capita, yet those who need support remain on wait lists," he said.

Higher per capita rate

For people over the age of 75 across Canada, the per capita rate of nursing home beds is 86 for every 1,000 people. In Nova Scotia, that number is 113 for every 1,000 people.

Vaughan also criticized the current placement system.

"Today, placements are based on when a client was put on a list, rather than based on the needs of the individual. This makes an inefficient and frankly unfair system," he said.

The Department of Health and Wellness says the average wait for a long-term care bed is nine months. Actual waits are between 30 days and one year.

Vaughan said the province is looking to "refresh" the current long-term care strategy, while a complete overhaul of the system is about two years away. He said it will focus a "home first" model.

Putting supports in place to keep seniors in their homes longer is a laudable goals, said Gary MacLeod, but that doesn't mean more beds aren't needed.

"It's nice to think that you can stay in your own home forever but you can't," he said.

20 people added to wait list daily

Opposition politicians agree.

"Most people want to stay in their home as long as they can," said New Democratic Party Leader Maureen MacDonald, who is also the former health minister.

"It's familiar surroundings, it's more comfortable. They have better privacy and what have you, but that's not always possible. People can become very, very ill and require a high level of care at the end of their life."

The Progressive Conservative MLA for Northside-Westmount agrees.

"Right now, we need capacity in the nursing home system, the long-term care system — 1300 people waiting when you can only replace a person in a bed when they leave the system is not acceptable," Eddie Orrell said.

According to the Health Department, roughly 20 nursing home beds become free every day. Twenty people are also added to the waiting list daily.

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