Nursing home group calls on Nova Scotia to invest more in long-term care sector
Priorities include reviewing compensation, creating infrastructure plan for older care homes
A group that represents most of the licensed long-term care providers in Nova Scotia is calling on the provincial government to invest more in the sector, including increasing staffing levels and eliminating shared rooms in older care homes.
"We don't have a choice. We need to do something. We can't let the second wave of COVID lead to the same outcomes that we've seen even in the province and certainly nationally in our long-term care sector," Debra Boudreau, the board chair of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, said in a virtual news conference Tuesday morning.
With 76 nursing home members, the association represents 83 per cent of the licensed long-term care providers in Nova Scotia. Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges in long-term care.
Fifty-three residents at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax have died due to COVID-19, representing the bulk of the 63 deaths from the coronavirus in Nova Scotia.
The association says although COVID has "shone a light" on the problems in long-term care, the conditions that caused the outbreak at Northwood were in existence long before COVID-19 arrived in Nova Scotia.
"What happened at Northwood could have happened at any of our facilities, maybe not to the magnitude because of the size of Northwood as the largest facility in the province, but we were all watching very closely and learning lessons every day as they were going through their outbreak so that we could essentially piggyback on what they were doing," Boudreau said.
In a position paper titled Enough Talk, the association asks five things of the provincial government:
- Establish a vision for long-term care by developing a sector strategy.
- Invest more in the workforce by completing a full compensation review and increasing staffing levels.
- Create a multi-year infrastructure plan to eliminate shared rooms in older long-term care homes.
- Revise funding models to ensure equitable access across the sector.
- Review, alongside the association, timelines related to recommendations by the 2018 expert panel on long-term care.
A news release said the association would like the province to focus on the requests in the next six to 18 months.
Michele Lowe, the executive director of association, said the group is looking for urgent action from the province. For example, she thinks many of the province's shared long-term care rooms could reasonably be converted to single rooms in two or three years.
"I think we have seen very quickly how Northwood has been able to make those adjustments and have been able to move to single rooms, so we know that there is the ability to do that," she said.
"If we are able to do that in a four-month period there should certainly be ... a strategy that has so many beds per year."
Lowe said the association is seeking wage parity for their employees with employees at the Nova Scotia Health Authority who do equivalent work. Currently, the association's paper said some long-term care staff are making 30 to 40 per cent less than NSHA employees doing similar work.
"It is alarming to our sector and to many of our members that they are losing talent every day that are going to other health organizations that are part, of course, of the health authority," Lowe said.
"It's not to say that we don't agree with the compensation levels that are provided for the health authority employees. We absolutely do. But how is it fair when you have a comparable role that is making 30 to 40 percent more than what our staff in long-term care are making? That's the investment we need to be able to retain that talent and build on that talent."
The association also said there have been at least nine reports since 2008 that have called for change in the long-term care sector — none of which have been fully implemented.
In a statement, a provincial spokesperson said the Department of Health and Wellness and the health authority are "actively engaged" at addressing the issues the long-term care homes identified.
The statement said the province has been working on timelines laid out in an expert panel report on long-term care in January 2019.
"Many of the recommendations seek to resolve complex, system-wide issues and we are taking the time to engage with the sector to find flexible solutions that prioritize the care of residents," the statement said.
The province is also working on a review of what happened at Northwood and a review of all infection, prevention and control procedures, which are both due in the fall.