Halifax: Wait for long-term beds ‘unacceptable’

This article was published by The Cape Breton Post on April 29th 2012.  To see this article and other related articles on The Cape Breton Post website, please click here

HALIFAX — The waiting list for long-term care beds in Nova Scotia is as long as it’s ever been and the Tories are saying it’s because the NDP has not followed through on the continuing-care strategy.

That 2006 strategy called for the construction of 1,320 new long-term care beds by 2016 and 840 of those were supposed to be opened by 2010. Only about 700 have been opened and the NDP hasn’t announced any new beds since being elected in June 2009. Cape Breton North MLA Eddie Orrell says this amounts to a cancellation of the strategy.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said in budget estimates the wait-list for long-term care beds has increased to almost 1,900, up from about 1,500 in June 2009.

“It’s as long as it’s been in history and they’re not doing anything about it until 2014, which, to me, is unacceptable,” Orrell said.

Susan Stevens, a director in the continuing-care branch at the Department of Health and Wellness, says none of the second batch of new beds have been cancelled.

“We haven’t made any decisions or announcements on that group of beds. They are still in the planning phase,” Stevens said.

Of the first group of 840, about 100 of those were for Cape Breton, plus there were some announced before 2006.

“So, the bottom line is we have opened 153 beds in Cape Breton since 2006 and 26 more are underway,” Stevens said.

Miner’s Memorial in Sydney Mines will open with 13 beds this year and another 13 will be available when Maple Hill Manor opens in New Waterford next year.

Last fall, an internal Department of Health and Wellness report became public and revealed some people in Cape Breton were waiting 400 days for a long-term care bed.

Department of Health and Wellness statistics show the median waiting time for 2011-12 in the Cape Breton District Health Authority was 259 days. In the Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority, which includes the southern portion of Cape Breton, the median wait for 2011-12 was 220 days.

In Cape Breton, people typically have had longer waiting times than the provincial average and there are many reasons for this.

“Part of it is demographics, probably part of it is health status,” said Stevens.

Orrell agrees with that.

“We’ve had a high industrialization with coal mines and steel plants,” said Orrell. “Our seniors will get sicker because of what they’ve been exposed to through their lifetime.”

There are 68,000 people over the age of 75 in Nova Scotia and there are almost 6,900 long-term care beds for a ratio of 101 beds per 1,000 people. By comparison, that ratio was 96 per thousand in 2001 and dipped to 89 per thousand in 2008 as our population aged. It climbed to its current level because of the new facilities opened since 2008.

Pictou County District Health Authority has the highest ratio of beds in the province with 120 per 1,000 people. The Cape Breton District Health Authority is second with a ratio of 119 per thousand and the Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority is third with 110.

Says Orrell: “Our population is aging and it’s putting a large strain on our families to keep their loved ones at home and it’s putting a large strain on the health-care system keeping them in hospital waiting for those beds.”

In their budget this year, the NDP announced $20 million in additional funding for home care.

A poll done last summer by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons indicated people want to stay home as long as possible. The average age of a Nova Scotian going into a nursing home is 83, so that requires a strong support system.

“Now, the focus is really shifting to home and community care,” said Stevens, who said the department is looking at finding the “right mix” so fewer people need to rely on nursing homes.

“That’s great in theory, but not everybody can be kept at home,” said Orrell.

On April 20, the Health Council of Canada released a study on home care in Canada that supported the Canadian Association of Retired Persons position on the key role home care and caregiver support play in helping seniors stay at home.

The report points to Nova Scotia’s Home Again Continuing Care Program as a pilot program worth following.

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