More than 2,400 Nova Scotia seniors await home spots

This article was published by The Chronicle Herald on June 21st,  2013.  To see this article and other related articles on The Chronicle Herald website, please click here

More than 2,400 seniors in Nova Scotia are waiting for a spot in a nursing home or residential care facility.

The wait list is growing even though the province says it has opened new beds, replaced old ones and beefed up home care support services.

“We do see wait lists and we need to try to understand why we’ve seen an increase in the wait list,” said Health and Wellness Minister David Wilson.

“We know that we need to do a better job at educating Nova Scotians about what the options are.”

Over 40 per cent of those on the waiting list have not signed up for any type of home care support, he said.

“Really, long-term care placement should be a last resort for Nova Scotians,” Wilson said.

The longest wait for a long-term care bed is in the Cape Breton district health authority, where the median wait is about 13 months (396 days) to get into a nursing home and about seven months (193 days) to get into a residential care facility, 2012-13 figures from the Health and Wellness Department show.

In Capital Health, the province’s largest health district, the median wait is about six months (186 days) for a nursing home and just over five months (156 days) for a residential care facility.

Nova Scotia has 7,821 long-term care beds.

“The total cost to provide LTC (long-term care) in the province is about $669 million,” Tony Kiritsis, a health department spokesman said in an email.

“Of that, $538 million annually comes from the province. The remaining is from LTC residents.”

Wilson said government will continue to provide long-term care for those who need it, but there needs to be a shift in the way people think about support.

“When Nova Scotians think about support, they automatically think about long-term care. That has always been the way for some time now.

“We want to change this because there are other options for Nova Scotians and many of them do not consider or know about such options as home care.”

In May 2006, the province, then under a Progressive Conservative government, rolled out a 10-year plan for continuing care in Nova Scotia.

The strategy emphasized more economical and flexible programs such as home care, respite care and palliative care in homes and communities but also called for the creation of 1,320 new long-term care beds over 10 years.

Since then, nearly 1,000 new long-term beds have opened. However, that figure includes some beds promised before the release of the 2006 strategy.

“While 989 new beds have opened, 740 were beds committed under the strategy and 249 were committed prior to the strategy in 2004 and 2005,”Kiritsis said in an email.

Wilson said the department has been investing heavily in expanding home care support — an additional $22 million last year — and continues to open new long-term care beds and refurbish old ones. The annual home-care budget is now $196 million.

“We are continuing to replace long-term care beds and look at the stock that we have now in the province to ensure that it meets the needs into the future,” he said.

In 2013, the province has opened two new long-term beds in Advocate Harbour, in the Cumberland district health authority.

Upcoming construction projects will result in 12 new beds in Argyle in the South West district health authority and 13 in New Waterford, the department said in an email.

However, Progressive Conservative Health and Wellness critic Chris d’Entremont said the government is refusing to build new long-term care beds, and seniors who need higher levels of care are suffering on wait lists.

The number on the waiting list for long-term care has grown over 50 per cent since the NDP took office, he said in a news release issued Tuesday.

“By ignoring the crisis in long-term care, the Dexter NDP is allowing the wait list to grow and grow. Now we’re seeing the impact this neglect is having on families across Nova Scotia,” d’Entremont said.

“Hospitals are being forced to keep patients waiting for long-term care placement in acute-care beds. It’s backlogging emergency rooms and crippling emergency services in some communities.”

Bill VanGorder, volunteer president of the Nova Scotia chapter of CARP, said he hears many stories about Nova Scotians waiting for long-term care beds, but those waits vary depending on the area.

“There are people who seem to wait a tremendous long time and sometimes (there are cases of) putting somebody into a place that is a long distance away from a spouse or other loved one,” said VanGorder, who is also chairman of the Group of IX Seniors’ Advisory Council of Nova Scotia.

While some Nova Scotians report home care services are wonderful, others have complaints.

“As with most things, it seems to have a lot to do with the flexibility of the people in charge,” he said.

With Nova Scotia’s aging population, it is clear that the province will be unable to keep pace with the demand for long-term care beds, VanGorder said.

“We’ve got to do something more in terms of finding other ways to look after people as they grow older. The current system is just not sustainable.”

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