Nova Scotia home care wait list up 50% over past 2 years

The number of Nova Scotians waiting for home care has risen more than 50 per cent over the past two years, while the wait list in the Western health care zone has more than doubled.

Health minister says money not giving the 'desired result'

Since April of 2014, health officials have been keeping weekly tabs on the number of people waiting for home support from Continuing Care Assistants. (CBC) (CBC)

The number of Nova Scotians waiting for home care has risen more than 50 per cent over the past two years, while the wait list in the western health care zone has more than doubled. 

That's despite a provincial home care budget of $136 million per year. Minister of Health and Wellness Leo Glavine doesn't think committing more money will help. 

"In our first year in office, $33 million did go directly into home care, and it certainly did not give us the desired results," he said. 

"I see a change in some of the model and the structure of the agencies, rather than just put money out there." 

Since April 2014, health officials have been keeping weekly tabs on the number of people waiting for home support from Continuing Care Assistants (CCAs), who mainly help with bathing and light housekeeping. 

Those numbers, provided to CBC News, show 648 Nova Scotians waiting for home care on March 18 of this year. 

Home care wait lists from April 2014-March 2016. (CBC)

That's up over 50 per cent from from when the province started tracking the numbers. 

More than half of those waiting — 361 people — are in the Nova Scotia Health Authority's western zone, which includes the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore.

In two years, the western zone wait list has grown by nearly 170 per cent.

A health department spokesperson says there are roughly 20,000 people receiving government home care at any given time, with 5,000 patients entering and leaving the system every month. 

Glavine says a push to cut wait lists for nursing homes has increased demand on the home care system. 

"We have reduced the nursing home wait list by 1,000 people, and therefore that Home First model does put pressure on home care delivery," he said.

Home care wait list per 100,000 MSI clients. (CBC)

Joel Stoddart is a member of the Kentville-based Careforce Home Care Worker Co-operative, and a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Home Care Alliance.

He can't say why wait times are highest in his area of the province. 

But he says there's a problem with CCAs abandoning the profession due to workload and stress. 

"Oftentimes the government looks at it and says, so many people have been trained, this many thousands of people, so surely there must be enough people," he said. 

"But a lot of them have just left the industry altogether and have taken on a different line of work."

In the Western zone, government home support is provided solely by the VON Canada.

'Tsunami is coming fast and furious'

Stoddard says tapping private providers could help whittle away at wait times. 

"Compared to the VON we are a very small organization. So I think it would naive to say we could solve it all. But we could certainly help," he said. 

Another private home care provider thinks wait times are set to get much longer because of what she calls a demographic tsunami of aging baby boomers. 

Phyllis MacDonald of Pictou County Home Care expects to see the first ripples of that in the next 18 months. 

"Our government is not prepared, they do not have a plan to handle it. And the tsunami is coming fast and furious because our population is aging," she said. 

Glavine points to Pictou County as a bright spot in the fight against home care wait times.

"Pictou County is a great example. Pictou County again had a long wait list, they came in with some new initiatives there. And now they have a just-in-time service which they have reached in the last couple of months," he said. 

Scheduling, communication improvements needed

Susan Stephens, Senior Director of Continuing Care with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, says improving scheduling and communication between home care agencies and clients helped cut the backlog to zero. 

She says the approach will be introduced in other parts of the province in the coming months. 

Stephens expects wait times for home support to start dropping by early fall. 

The province only tracks the number of people waiting for home care; there is no way to calculate how long they are waiting. 

Stephens says a recent study in the Annapolis Valley showed 50 per cent of patients received home support within five days. 

But she said the wait for a few hours of housekeeping per week could be over a year. 

About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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