Law to prevent N.S. couples from being separated in long-term care to take effect
Spouses, common-law and domestic partners will be placed together under new law
Longtime loves Bryce and Hazel Gibson had spent practically their entire lives together until bureaucratic red tape pulled them apart in 2018, leaving their family members to fight for the couple's eventual reunion.
Now there's hope that a new law proclaimed in Nova Scotia preventing couples from being separated in long-term care will mean no other pair has to endure the heartache of separation that the Gibsons felt.
"Couples who have loved and supported each other should not have to face being separated when they enter long-term care," Premier Stephen McNeil said in a news release Thursday.
"This legislation helps ensure life partners can stay together as they age, even if one person may need a different level of long-term care."
Introduced by the Liberals last year, the Life Partners in Long-Term Care Act is meant to ensure couples are placed in the same facility at the highest level of care required.
The law, which is scheduled to come into effect on March 1, impacts spouses, common-law and domestic partners, and applies to the 133 long-term care homes licensed and funded by the province.
Had it been in place a few years ago, it would have prevented Bryce and Hazel from being split up into separate long-term care homes. Although the spouses were eventually reunited, they had to jump through regulatory hoops to make it happen and the move wasn't easy.
Judy Gibson, Bryce and Hazel's daughter-in-law, describes them as "attached at the hip," even after 78 years of marriage.
"They're a couple that can't live without each other," she said.
Aside from three years Bryce spent serving in the navy during the Second World War, the Gibsons had hardly spent any time apart since meeting as children — until 2017 when Hazel spent three months in hospital with a concussion.
Bryce started showing signs of dementia around the same time and moved into the Camp Hill Veterans Memorial facility in Halifax. After her release from hospital, Hazel moved into the Northwood long-term care home.
A 'traumatic' move
Camp Hill is reserved for veterans. Even though it had 43 empty beds in 2018 when the couple's family was advocating for their reunion, a policy agreement between Veterans Affairs Canada and Nova Scotia's health authority prevented a non-veteran like Hazel from taking any of those beds, except for a short-term arrangement.
In 2019, Bryce got a bed in Northwood, although the move was not without its challenges.
"It was traumatic to move him to Northwood because he had been [at Camp Hill] for over a year," said Judy Gibson.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, McNeil used Bryce and Hazel's story as an example of circumstances that could be changed by the new law.
"The veteran moved into Northwood to be together. We would now have the ability to work with the national government to have access to either one of those facilities," he said.
The health authority wrote in an email it has been working with the province "to license and fund vacant VAC beds in a number of our veterans units across the province to enable access to non-veterans who require nursing home level care," and that the process would continue.