HALIFAX: The province’s department of health is disagreeing with one of the province’s opposition parties.

On March 7, the Nova Scotia NDP caucus issued a press release stating a Freedom of Information Request found 305 patients passed away while waiting for nursing home placement in Cape Breton over the past five years.

“It is unacceptable to see so many people spending their last days in hospitals, instead of receiving proper long-term care,” stated Tammy Martin, MLA for Cape Breton Centre and NDP spokesperson for health. “We need more nursing home beds in Cape Breton and I can’t understand why the Liberals have failed to open a single new nursing home bed since they were elected in 2013.”

The release also stated Cape Breton has what the NDP called a disproportionate number of patients waiting over a year in hospital beds for placement in a nursing home, noting 47 people have spent 365 days waiting in hospital beds for placement over the past five years.

When contacted for comment, M.J. MacDonald, executive director of risk mitigation-continuing care with the Department of Health and Wellness (DHW), said the number is for the Eastern Zone, which also includes Antigonish and Guysborough, as well as Cape Breton.

“Not all patients designated as alternate level of care are waiting for a placement in a Department of Health and Wellness funded and licensed facility,” stated MacDonald in an e-mail. “Patients in hospital are designated as alternate level care when they no longer require services in an acute care setting and have been medically discharged.

“Not all alternate level of care patients are waiting for a placement, but patients waiting for placement in a Department of Health and Wellness funded and licensed facility may be designated as alternate level of care at some point during their hospital stay.”

MacDonald stated alternate levels of care can include patients who are receiving palliative care; awaiting transfer to another facility such as a nursing home, residential care, personal care home or community services facility; awaiting community services to be arranged; and others who face similar circumstances.

“Over the last five years, 267 patients died in hospital in the Eastern Zone who were also on a wait list for a Department of Health and Wellness funded and licensed facility,” stated MacDonald. “Of those, 258 were in Cape Breton.”

Over the same time period, stated MacDonald, 837 patients in hospital were placed in DHW funded and licensed long term care facilities. As of March 4, 2018, 66 patients are in hospital in the Eastern Zone who are also on a wait list for a DHW funded and licensed facility.

“In 2016/17, the Eastern Zone had 59 beds designated for alternate level of care patients staffed and in operation,” stated MacDonald. “In the past five years, the number of alternate level of care bed days in Eastern Zone decreased by 39 per cent. Over half [58 per cent] of alternate level of care patients in the province are 80 years of age and older, and 19 per cent are 90 and older. That is consistent with the Eastern Zone where 52 per cent of alternate level of care patients are over 80 years of age and 17 per cent are 90 years and over.”

As for what the province is doing to improve things for those looking for nursing home placement, MacDonald stated continuing care has a number of components and is always evolving.

“We are looking at care in the community, home care and long-term care, and how to meet the current and future needs of our aging population,” stated MacDonald. “We are improving workplace safety, enhancing care benefits, and being responsive to technological changes in the industry. All of this work comes under an overall strategy for continuing care, and we expect to start announcing more initiatives in the spring.”