COVID-19 increases long-term care wait-list by 10% in Nova Scotia
As admissions at long-term care facilities has slowed during pandemic, wait-list has risen
Infection control measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 have increased the backlog of Nova Scotians waiting for long-term care beds.
At Northwood, the Halifax long-term care home with the largest and only ongoing outbreak of COVID-19, no new residents have been admitted since March 31. The province prohibits new admissions to any facility with an ongoing outbreak, but some facilities currently untouched by COVID-19 have opted to put new admissions on hold as an added precaution.
Many facilities have also reduced their capacity to make space for COVID-19 isolation units, or to separate residents who had been living in shared rooms.
Before the global coronavirus pandemic reached Nova Scotia in March, there were about 1,300 people waiting for long-term care in the province. But because new admissions have slowed in the past two months, Health Minister Randy Delorey said the wait-list has grown by 10 to 12 per cent, but changes day by day.
Delorey's department announced Friday that in response to the growing wait-list, it was crafting a deal with Shannex to convert part of Caritas, a private assisted living home in Bedford, N.S., into nursing home beds.
The deal will add 23 beds to the province's capacity starting in early June. A spokesperson for the province said the price tag for the project is still being finalized.
When asked if the province was looking at other ways to address the backlog in long-term care created by COVID-19, Delorey pointed to a slew of long-term care projects that were announced in 2019 and 2020, prior to the pandemic.
He then added that more work is ongoing and said the 23 new beds in Bedford were just one example of the changes being made to improve long-term care.
A call for more home-care support
Janice Keefe, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax and director of the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, said it was no surprise the wait-list had grown as a result of COVID-19. She said the most obvious response would be to increase home-care support for people who may now be waiting longer for a bed in long-term care.
She said she understands why many facilities are placing an "iron ring" around their walls by blocking family, volunteers and new residents to protect the vulnerable population. But it has the unfortunate consequence of decreasing the capacity of a system that's already in high demand.
"If the individuals who need care and are eligible for a long-term care facility, if they're not able to be cared for at home … it may result in having to be admitted to a hospital," said Keefe.
She said the overall takeaway from COVID-19 in long-term care is the need for more resources.
No decisions yet on shared rooms
Delorey said capacity at long-term care facilities has dropped about six per cent, on average, as facilities have made space for COVID-19 isolation units and moved people out of shared rooms.
At Northwood, where 52 of the province's 59 COVID-19 deaths have occurred, the facility has reduced its capacity by about 18 per cent. As of Friday, 85 out of 485 beds were vacant.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, and Northwood administrators have identified shared rooms as a problem when it comes to infection control, and one of the reasons why Northwood has struggled to contain the virus.
In the past month, Northwood has eliminated shared rooms wherever possible, with the exception of couples and roommates who want to stay together. CEO Janet Simm said the facility will try to maintain single rooms going forward, but a permanent change to its occupancy would have to be done in concert with the province, which licenses and funds the non-profit organization.
Delorey said "no decisions have been made at this point" about any changes to shared rooms, at Northwood or any other facility.
With files from Shaina Luck