Nova Scotia

Health minister defends plan to cut nursing home funding if beds aren't filled

Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey is pushing ahead with plans to stop paying for all the beds being kept empty in nursing homes across Nova Scotia. Administrators are refusing to fill them over fears of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections.

Randy Delorey says many homes allowed vacancy rates 'to go far beyond any anticipated need'

Health Minister Randy Delorey says the government still intends to proceed with the plan despite pleas from the association representing many Nova Scotia nursing homes. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey is sticking to his department's hard line with nursing homes that are refusing to fill beds over fears they'll need the extra space during a resurgence of COVID-19 infections.

The group that represents most nursing homes and care facilities in the province wants Delorey to hold off on pulling funding, but he told reporters Thursday the plan is to follow through on a threat issued by his deputy minister in mid-September.

Dr. Kevin Orrell sent a letter to every care home in the province telling them empty beds would no longer be funded by the province. Facilities would be allowed to keep some beds empty in order to isolate sick patients, but no more than three per cent of their overall number of beds.

"We believe that they have capacity to fill so that, I believe, stands," said Delorey when asked if ending funding was still the plan.

The Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, which represents 76 nursing homes provincewide, has said administrators were keeping the beds unoccupied as a precaution and because they were unclear what assistance the province would be ready to give them in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Delorey flatly rejected the claim nursing homes weren't aware of the government's pandemic plans.

"I believe the sector is well aware of what this plan is for wave two," he told reporters.

Delorey said his department had been in close contact with nursing homes in developing that plan and had even sought feedback from operators.

As for the number of beds being kept empty, Delorey suggested the percentage was up to triple the three per cent acceptable by the province.

"Many facilities have really allowed their vacancy rate to go far beyond any anticipated need at those facilities while we have many Nova Scotians who need those services," he said.

"People of Nova Scotia need those financial resources to be redirected to other locations or facilities that are willing to provide those care services for those Nova Scotians in need."

Vacancy numbers

In an email, Health Department spokesperson Marla MacInnis said there are 6,958 nursing home beds in Nova Scotia, including respite. She said as of Sept. 29 there were 533 vacant nursing home beds, which works out to a vacancy rate of 7.7 per cent.

"Please note these numbers are lower than they were before the directive to fill beds was issued to facilities," she said.

Criticism from NDP

NDP Leader Gary Burrill took the side of nursing homes in this dispute and put the blame on the governing Liberals for the fact home administrators are in this position.

Burrill told reporters homes were keeping beds open in order to keep their residents safe because many share rooms or bathrooms. It's a situation that has led to the spread of infection, which has had deadly consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burrill accused the governing Liberals of having ignored or turned down multiple requests for renovations or new construction of homes during their time in office.

"It brings to a heightened awareness and a heightened light how serious the impact has been of the government's failure to build the nursing homes that were needed or to respond positively to the capital redevelopment proposals from the nursing homes we have," said Burrill.