Hundreds of NBers wait for nursing home beds January 28, 2013



The number of people in New Brunswick hospitals awaiting nursing home beds remains consistent, fluctuating from month to month but not really showing any signs of improvement. 

The Department of Social Development reports that about 800 New Brunswickers on average are waiting for a nursing home bed. Currently, about 166 reside at home while the rest are in hospitals or other health-care facilities.

In June, the department said that there were 717 New Brunswickers waiting for placement in a nursing home, with 452 applicants waiting in hospital, and those numbers were nearly identical to figures from a year earlier. 

Social Development Minister Madeleine Dubé said while government continues to work on improving seniors’ care, there is much work to be done. 

“Since 2010, (we’ve created) more than 200 new nursing home beds,” she said. “So, yes there is some positive movement, but we know the population is aging, the demand is there, and like I said this is still an issue.”

Dubé said her department has an annual budget of $1.5 billion, with more than one-third — about $566 million — dedicated to seniors care. 

Last year, the Alward government announced that it would add 354 new nursing home beds while private-sector operators will build 704 additional special-care beds over the next five years. It’s a plan the Opposition Liberals criticized as providing short-term gain while driving up long-term costs.

The new nursing home beds will be added at a cost of $329 million over five years. The special-care home beds will be built and owned by private-sector operators and will not require capital funding by the province.

The province also announced nursing home renovation plans and standardized senior health evaluations, Dubé said.
“Seniors care is not all about nursing homes,” she added. “There’s a lot of stuff being done for long-term care.”
She said the province needs to work toward offering better services to keep seniors living at home for as long as possible. 

“Maybe the plan was, ‘OK, mom needs a nursing home,’ but at the end of (an) assessment, maybe there’s other ways to help mom and dad,” she said. 

Dubé also pointed to the first ever Summit On Healthy Aging and Care that took place in Fredericton in November as evidence that there is a lot of work on the issue being done in New Brunswick. That event brought more than 325 aging-care stakeholders from across the province, giving health-care providers, government decision-makers, administrators, advocates, researchers, seniors and other partners an opportunity to get together in one room and discuss the challenges on the horizon and plan collaborations and shared strategies for the future.

“A lot has been done, but still we do have a lot of work to do,” Dubé admitted.
Horizon Health Network reported last week that in its regional hospitals, 304 acute-care beds (25 per cent), were occupied by people awaiting nursing home beds or home care.
Those patients who no longer require acute care services are considered alternate-level-of-care (ALC) patients.

In Horizon’s community hospitals, 59 acute-care beds, about 47 per cent, are taken up by ALC patients. Those numbers are accurate as of Jan. 16. 

“We empathize with patients and their families as they wait in hospital for home care or alternate living arrangements in the community,” said Horizon spokesperson Lisa Caissie. “It is recognized that hospitals are not the best setting for these patients and we continue to work with the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development and Vitalité Health Network to find solutions.
In Vitalité Health Network, 280 beds (29 per cent) were taken up by ALC patients as of December. More than 70 people were undergoing an evaluation process to determine what kind of future care they would need while 204 were awaiting space in a nursing or special-care home. 

Asked if we will start to see improved numbers in the near future, Dubé said it’s difficult to predict.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but we know if we can have better services to support our seniors better at home — which is what they want — this could prevent a lot of people from ending up in nursing homes. So this is where we need to focus on. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Cécile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Homes Residents’ Rights, agreed with Dubé that there is a lot of work left to do in the province. 

“But it just seems like we’ve been talking about this for a long time,” she said. “I can tell you that I’ve been talking about this for nine years, and it seems that the wheels just don’t turn fast enough.”
She would like to see anyone languishing in a hospital bed to be put into special care homes and re-evaluated. Keeping them in hospitals is more expensive, Cassista said, but it is also detrimental to a patient’s health. 

“The longer you languish in a hospital bed, the weaker you get,” she added.
This and other recommendations were made to government late last year when the coalition gave a report to government entitled Visions of Change: Aging in Place. Cassista said she met with Dubé in December to go over the recommendations and she has regular dialogue with the minister and her department. 

The coalition would also like the province to put private home health-care workers under the auspices of the provincial extra-mural program, giving them better wages and benefits, but also adding to their skill sets to improve senior care.

She suggested that a public auto insurance system could help fund these initiatives, similar to programs in Manitoba. 

Now, because private agencies run home health-care services, Cassista said workers are not paid enough and there is a high rate of turnover. 

In November, the New Brunswick Home Support Association said they disagreed with Cassista’s position, believing it to be a massive undertaking for government and taxpayers. The NBHSA said it was working with stakeholders regarding improved training, better wages, benefits and other career issues for workers.