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VIBERT: McNeil's inaction setting stage for future nursing home crisis

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

The year Stephen McNeil’s Liberals defeated Darrell Dexter’s NDP government, 11 of Nova Scotia’s aging long-term care facilities — nine of them nursing homes — were slated for replacement.

More than five years later, one has been replaced, two more are winding their way through the province’s torturous approval process and the others are, well, still getting older.

One nursing home administrator says the government’s inexplicable and unexplained delay of these projects is pushing the province toward a profound lack of appropriate care for the elderly. With wait times of up to a year for a nursing home bed now, there’s already a shortage, but the virtual halt in replacing old facilities risks a net loss of long-term-care capacity, which will create a full-blown crisis — thousands of old, very frail Nova Scotians, and no place to care for them.

The province’s delay or halt on these projects is hard to fathom because the cost to rebuild the aging nursing homes falls to their private sector or not-for-profit owners, not the provincial government.

The one facility that was replaced is Bethany House in Antigonish, the residence for the Sisters of St. Martha. Designs are on the drawing boards for new homes to replace aging structures in Mahone Bay and Meteghan.

Other nursing homes approved for replacement in 2013 are in New Glasgow, Wolfville, Musquodoboit Harbour, Chester, Shelburne and Amherst. There’s <FZ,1,0,13>no hint from the province when, or if, those projects might go ahead. The residential care facilities approved for replacement were Hillsview Acres in Queens County and Carefield Manor Sydney.

Each of those projects has the potential to inject millions into local economies during construction.

The province offers no explanation for the delay or change in plans. It did say that $37 million has been invested in capital improvements in nursing homes in the past five years, and that 50 new nursing home beds are included in the Cape Breton hospital redevelopment that will also see the closure of two community hospitals.

Nova Scotia NDP leader Gary Burrill has been trying for a couple of years to convince the government that its undeclared moratorium on nursing home beds is cascading through the health system and contributing to bottlenecks at every point.

Up to 20 per cent of the province’s hospital beds are occupied — at any given time — by people waiting for a nursing home place. With hospital beds full, the emergency rooms are packed with patients waiting for an in-patient bed.

Outside hospitals, ambulances are stacked up waiting to offload their patients into emergency departments working at over-capacity already.

Nova Scotia’s paramedics issue at least one “code critical” daily. Code critical is an alert from paramedics that ambulance service is unavailable, or severely reduced, in a defined geographic area. Tuesday, the paramedics’ union issued code critical alerts in HRM, where only one ambulance was available and in Colchester and Pictou counties where there were none.

Burrill makes a good case.

Nova Scotians already wait anywhere from a few months to over a year for a nursing home bed, depending on where in the province they live. The province will place those waiting for a nursing home bed in any facility within 100 kilometres of their home.

There are between 1,000 and 1,250 people waiting for a bed, and if aging facilities aren’t replaced before their useful life is over, wait times will get longer and the number of people waiting will grow higher.

As everyone knows, the largest generation in history, the post-Second World War baby boom, is closing in on its geriatric period. And while none are looking forward to running out the string in a nursing home, for a significant number it will become the last best option.

In recent weeks, Premier McNeil has taken to blaming past governments for failing to invest in health-care infrastructure, suggesting their inaction contributed to or created the current lack of capacity in Nova Scotia’s hospitals.

The McNeil government has announced hospital developments for Halifax and Cape Breton County.

But, starting in about a decade or so, when there are no nursing home beds available for thousands of old, infirm baby boomers, another premier will be able to point back to the Liberal government led by Stephen McNeil as the cause of that crisis.

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