The provincial government’s announcement of new long-term care beds and upgrades to facilities is a welcomed injection into a system badly in need of resources, but it was lost in the noise of an upcoming election.
On July 17, Iain Rankin visited Lieutent-Governor Arthur LeBlanc to dissolve the legislature and trigger a provincial election.
Before this, the governing Liberals, as well as the Progressive Conservatives and NDP, spent months finding and nominating candidates and touring the province making policy announcements, and unveiling planks in their platforms.
In the middle of this hectic season, the province announced it is investing $96.5 million in new long-term care beds and facilities.
As part of a multi-year plan, the province said it will replace 1,298 beds at 14 nursing homes and three residential care facilities across the province. The first project is expected to be completed by 2026-27.
The 17 facilities identified for renovation or replacement include the RK MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish and St. Anne Community and Nursing Care Centre in Arichat.
According to the province, the initial $96.5 million capital investment includes: $64.8 million to replace, repair or renovate 17 facilities; $29.9 million to add 264 new beds in the Central Zone; $615,000 to procure bed vacancy management and infrastructure management systems; $405,000 to assess facilities that are more than 25 years old; and $792,000 to hire nine permanent full-time employees to oversee and support the projects.
Facilities will be built, repaired or renovated according to space and design standards that put the needs of residents first, with private bedrooms and washrooms, and more focus on infection prevention and control, the province said, noting they will also include workplace safety elements like ceiling lifts to ensure staff are supported to safely provide the best quality care.
Provincial spokesperson Kristen Lipscombe told The Reporter that a detailed review of each facility will determine whether renovations or replacement is required, and she said this assessment will identify the scope of work, project timelines and associated costs.
The news received praise from Ramsay Duff, chief executive officer of MacLeod Group Health Services, who hailed it as a “generational investment.”
But the province’s opposition parties were less than enthusiastic.
For eight years, NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the Liberals argued that there wasn’t a need for new long-term care beds, and because of their delay, seniors who need long-term care and their families will still be waiting five or more years for change.
The NDP leader said families, seniors’ advocates and front-line workers have been calling for improvements for years.
Burrill claimed the Liberals have already announced $209 million in cuts, but have not said what they’re going to cut. He said an NDP government will make the investments needed without making people wait a decade to see results.
Continuing on the early campaign theme, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said the announcement doesn’t come close to addressing the serious need for investment in long-term care.
The PC Leader said this comes as more than 1,292 seniors are waiting for long term care, and with an aging population, that number will continue to go up.
The PC leader said when seniors can’t get into long-term care, they are forced into the hospital, and when they are forced into the hospital, wait times grow, and when wait times, grow ambulances can’t get to patients on time.
As noted by the Canadian Medical Association and a Deloitte report on seniors, investment in long-term care could potentially save $23 billion in acute care costs in this country, Houston noted, pointing to the PC Party’s “Dignity for our Seniors” plan to build 2,500 new beds and hire 2,000 new staff.
Instead of putting money into frontline workers like the PC plan, the government put almost a million dollars into office jobs in Halifax, Houston stated.
Houston said the announcement is not a real plan for long-term care, nor a plan for seniors. Calling it a “cynical political move” to get elected, the PC leader said it doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s needed to fix the long-term care system.
And while the PCs and NDP have a point in the timing just on the eve of the election, this was a welcomed injection of money and resources into a system desperately in need of both.
Long wait lists to enter care, and facilities that are cramped, aging or in need of repair are far too common across the province. And with large segments of the population (like Baby Boomers) getting older, there is work to be done now, and preparations to make for the near future.
The recent funding announcement certainly won’t patch all the cracks in the long-term care system, but improved facilities and more beds is a step in the right direction.
Hopefully, this will be accompanied by more and continued investments, programs and attention from provincial officials and parties, and not just at election time.