Nova Scotia

NDP says lack of new long-term care beds 'a general failure' by government

NDP Leader Gary Burrill is accusing Nova Scotia’s health minister and government of “a general failure” to understand the urgent need for more long-term care beds in the province.

Health minister says decisions on new beds will be made as need is 'clarified'

NDP Leader Gary Burrill says the time has come for the provincial government to build new long-term care beds. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill is accusing Nova Scotia's health minister and government of "a general failure" to understand the urgent need for more long-term care beds in the province.

"It costs us every day thousands of dollars for many, many people to stay in hospital who are not hospital patients," he told reporters Thursday in Halifax.

"There's just a general sense to not get it, that for an awful lot of families and an awful lot of people this is an urgent matter."

Burrill made the comments several days after officials with the Nova Scotia Health Authority told the legislature's standing committee on health that patient flow remains a problem for the province's health-care system, a problem that translates into ambulance offload delays and long waits for people in emergency departments.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says the government continues to emphasize improved home-care services and will build new long-term care beds as the need is clarified. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

At the core of those problems is a lack of available hospital beds. On average, about 20 per cent of the 1,700 medical and surgical beds are occupied by people who don't need acute care. And while not all of those people are waiting for long-term care placements, officials noted increased funding for home care and long-term care beds would help.

While the Liberal government has poured millions of dollars into home-care services during its tenure, drastically reducing waits for those services while helping more people stay home longer, the government has yet to open a single new long-term care bed since first coming to power in 2013.

Health Minister Randy Delorey noted Thursday there are plans to add 26 new beds in North Sydney as part of a new 48-bed long-term care site, and 24 new beds in New Waterford as part of a new 48-bed long-term care site there.

Wait list remains stubborn

But that work, part of a redevelopment of health-care facilities in Cape Breton Regional Municipality, is only just beginning the planning stages and there is no timeline for when those facilities might open.

Delorey said the government will keep looking at ways to expand home-care services and would "continue to look at what the needs may be across the province" for new long-term care beds. He said decisions about creating more beds would be made as information about expected requirements "is clarified" for him.

While increased home-care services has helped reduce the amount of time people wait to get into long-term care, bringing the average down from 304 days in 2015 to 174 days at the end of 2018, reducing the actual wait-list has proved a much more stubborn task.

There were 1,178 people on the wait-list for a nursing home placement at the end of 2018. That number has fluctuated through the years, but it is only 200 fewer than what it was in 2015, something that likely reflects the province's aging population and the corresponding need for services.

Burrill said the government needs to get on with it and build new beds, noting having someone in a long-term care bed can cost anywhere between a quarter and a third of what it costs for them to be in hospital. People waiting in hospital also miss out of elements of long-term care such as programming and the atmosphere of community, he said.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

With files from Jean Laroche