Nursing Home Act changes 2021

 It was cruel': Family of Saint Johner evicted from nursing home slams proposed legislative reforms

Susan Steels visits her mother Pauline Breen at the Loch Lomond Villa during the COVID-19 pandemic. Breen was evicted from the Villa in May, dying less than a month later.

Susan Steels visits her mother Pauline Breen at the Loch Lomond Villa during the COVID-19 pandemic. Breen was evicted from the Villa in May, dying less than a month later. 

Proposed legislation to provide more notice time for nursing home residents facing discharge comes too late for some New Brunswick families, receiving mixed reviews.

On Tuesday, the New Brunswick government introduced legislation to make changes to the New Brunswick Nursing Homes Act. They included extending the notification period for discharges from 15 to 30 days and a provision that discharges may only occur under specific circumstances detailed in the act.

Currently, residents of nursing homes and special care homes can be discharged for "any reason," according to section 17(1) of the act. 

It's something that relatives of nursing home residents like Susan Steels and Peggy McLean learned the hard way.

Susan Steels's 83-year-old mother, Pauline Breen, was discharged from Loch Lomond Villa in May, after Steels and her sisters began asking questions about their mother, whose health was rapidly deteriorating. The letter informing the family of Breen's eviction said it was happening "due to the lack of trust you have expressed in our care."

Even after receiving a seven-day extension to the 15-day notice period negotiated through their lawyer, Steels said no other nursing home beds opened up, and her mother had to be transferred to the Saint John Regional Hospital. 

Breen died less than a month later.

For Steels, it was never a question of the amount of notice a family got, but the fact that evictions of nursing home residents could happen in the first place. The proposed legislation "missed the boat," she said.

An added 15 days wouldn't have helped her mother, Steels added.

"My mother had dementia. My mother was very frail. She was very fragile in her health. To discharge somebody like her caused her great trauma. It caused our family trauma that we will live with for the rest of our life," Steels said.

"It wasn't cruel because it happened in 15 days or 30 days. It was cruel because it happened."

Peggy McLean of Miramichi was shocked to receive notice in May that her 78-year-old mother only had 15 days to leave her Saint John special care home.

The family was told at the time that the level of care required by her blind mother was more than the home could provide. But McLean told the Miramichi Leader in June that her mother's needs hadn't changed in the three years she'd lived there.

Learning about the proposed changed to the act this week, McLean said it was a step in the right direction.

"Fifteen days is not enough time to try to find reasonable accommodations, particularly if they need to go to another level of care," McLean said.

The addition of allowed reasons for discharging residents would also give families a "reasonable explanation" that they could have tried to resolve, McLean added. 

The province hasn't released the list of allowable circumstances yet. A press release from the Department of Social Development said that a list would be posted online in "coming weeks," and provide the public with 28 days with which to supply feedback.

Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents‘ Rights, has been waiting for changes to the Nursing Homes Act for many years.

"This section of the Nursing Homes Act has been around since 1980. It's pretty archaic," she said, adding she's already gone through the proposed changes with a fine-tooth comb.

Cassista said she wasn't too concerned that 30 days wouldn't be enough time for residents and their families, especially given there will be a list of allowable circumstances.

"I think that with the changes coming, to me, it's positive, and that we can work with it moving forward."

Social Development Bruce Fitch acknowledged past concerns about there being no clear list of reasons to discharge residents.

"Discharging a resident from a long-term care facility is always a last resort,” Fitch said in his press release. “Any discharge of nursing home residents will have to fit within the circumstances to be prescribed by regulation.”

Steels said she believes nursing home operators should only be able to evict residents for "serious reasons." 

"And that has to be completely explored; the operator needs to demonstrate that," she added.

– With files from Payge Woodard