Regional Care Unit coming to St. Martha’s Regional Hospital

HALIFAX: To protect the health and safety of seniors in long-term care, six Regional Care Units will be established across the province, including Antigonish.

The provincial government has budgeted up to $6.2 million for this initiative, which will see a unit set up at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital.

Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) spokesperson Brendan Elliot told The Reporter this is a way to reduce and manage the spread of the virus among long-term care residents.

“We learned from the first wave that virus spread can be minimized by grouping residents who test positive for the COVID-19 virus together,” he stated. “This means residents who test positive will be cared for by a dedicated team in a specific area, with clear clinical and infection control guidelines, enhanced staffing and appropriate equipment and personal protective equipment.”

Elliot said the regional care units for the Eastern Zone will be located at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital and the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

“The Eastern Zone’s COVID-19 medical unit and Regional Care Units will be cohabitated at these sites,” he explained. “Staff working in the COVID-19 medical unit will support the regional care unit patients. These staff and physicians have cared for COVID positive cases and will provide expert clinical and medical skills to care for long-term care patients.”

The NSHA is supporting the planning and introduction of these units across the province, and identified a number of locations in facilities that could meet requirements including infection prevention and control, occupational health and safety, and clinical care standards for caring for individuals with COVID-19.

Elliot said the province is finalizing the details of the Regional Care Units.

“With occupancy rates high in all of our facilities, our focus in the coming days and weeks will be to transition patients who no longer need hospital care out of those facilities,” Elliot noted. “We are working with [the Department of Health and Wellness’] continuing care branch and our partners in long-term care to expedite placement of individuals from these locations into available long-term care beds.”

According to the province, providers who operate large or multiple facilities may also choose to establish the regional care unit model in one of their facilities for their residents.

“Residents in our continuing care system are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to COVID-19,” said Leo Glavine, Minister of Health and Wellness. “We have made changes to strengthen how the sector responds to a second wave of the virus and Regional Care Units for nursing home residents who test positive for COVID-19 is one of these measures.”

These units will offer long-term care and have dedicated staff. They will have access to specialized resources like occupational health, and infection prevention and control experts. Work is underway to finalize guidelines on when a resident is transferred to a Regional Care Unit versus being cared for in place.

“Our staff, physicians and facilities are well equipped to support the care of long-term care residents who test positive for COVID-19,” said Bethany McCormick, Nova Scotia Health’s senior director of COVID-19 planning and implementation. “We’re pleased to work with our partners to support these efforts.”

There are 133 licensed long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia with a total of about 8,000 beds, while 58 per cent of rooms in the long-term care system are single rooms with private bathrooms.

The province will continue to supply the sector with PPE specifically for COVID-19. A three-month supply was recently delivered.

As the number of cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia continues to increase, the NDP said it is vital that the Liberal government make the safety of those who live in long-term care a top priority. While the province is again reporting community spread, many long-term care residents are still sharing rooms and bathrooms.

“Across the country, long-term care residents have faced the worst of COVID-19, and we cannot wait for tragedy to hit again before taking action,” said NDP Health and Wellness spokesperson Susan Leblanc.

The NDP has called on the government to make infrastructure investments to make sure that every resident of long-term care has a room of their own. In seven years, the Liberal government has opened only a handful of new long-term care beds, after imposing a six-year moratorium on nursing home construction.

“For the last seven years, the Liberal government has overlooked long-term care in a way that is unconscionable and shameful. We have seen repeated cutbacks, and failures to address the alarms raised about inadequate staffing by a series of reports,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. “We need to begin immediately with investments in new and redeveloped facilities that will make it possible for every resident to have a room they can call their own, and staffing to provide the care that they deserve.”

As part of the planning process for the second wave, DHW media relations advisor, Marla MacInnis added the province is investing $26 million this fiscal year and $11 million over the next two years to support this work. Part of this process is ensuring that long-term care rooms have no more than two residents.

“This accommodates residents that come in as couples or enjoy the social aspect of having a roommate,” MacInnis said. “Through discussions with facilities, if occupancy is greater than two per room then transition plans are being developed to reduce capacity over time. It’s important to remember that these rooms are people’s homes and all planning must be sensitive to that.”