New Brunswick’s aging population is causing additional stress on the province’s health system as more beds are being taken up by seniors waiting for placements in nursing homes, according to an executive at the Vitalité Health Network.
The health network appeared in front of the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations on Tuesday where politicians asked how they handled the issue of so-called bed blockers, seniors taking up hospital beds while they wait for nursing home spots.
Stéphane Legacy, a vice-president at Vitalité, said the health authority has bed blockers in every one of Vitalité's hospitals.
He said there are 60 people in the Bathurst hospital and 70 people in the Dr. Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital waiting for a spot in a nursing home.
"We have community hospitals that are at around 100 per cent with patients waiting for placements,” he said.
The Vitalité and the Horizon health networks have set up units to care for these people, providing service that's more appropriate but less expensive.
While the network tries to create the same feeling as a nursing home in these units, Legacy said it doesn't have the ability to offer structured events.
"We don't go as far as that [organized outings] because we don't have the means, the transportation, to do that kind of activity,” he said.
The provincial government has promised more than 1,000 new nursing home and special care spots in the coming years. Those additional spots should cost taxpayers less than keeping people in hospitals.
Liberal MLA Bill Fraser said the number of bed blockers in the network’s hospitals is not ideal for the facilities or for the seniors.
"It's certainly a very difficult situation that you're in, and that these patients are in, to be able to provide the proper services. You're doing the best you can with the facilities and the type of atmosphere that you have,” he said during the committee hearing.
The Liberal MLA said the specialized units are appropriate as a stopgap measure.
"That's a good solution in the short term but in the long term it's not helpful to the patients or to the facilities,” Fraser said.
The issue of bed blockers is only going to become more acute as the population continues to age.
New Brunswick has Canada’s second highest percentage of people aged 65 and over, with a large number of them concentrated in the northern part of the province, according to the latest census.
In 2011, the provincial figure was 16.5 per cent, according to Statistics Canada compared to the national average of 14.8 per cent.