FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's auditor general is warning of a crisis in the nursing home sector if the government doesn't address the shortage of spaces.
Kim Adair-MacPherson says the number of seniors in the province is expected to double by 2036 and that roughly 800 people are on waiting lists for a placement.
"Failing to implement nursing home plans and obtain needed services for seniors will result in a crisis," she said Tuesday while presenting two volumes of her annual report to a legislative committee.
Adair-MacPherson said the province's aging population will put pressure on hospitals and increase costs, adding that it remains unclear how the province plans to address nursing home demand. The Department of Social Development developed a 10-year aging strategy but failed to develop an implementation plan, she said.
There were 4,778 nursing home beds in New Brunswick as of March 31, 2020 — an increase of 299 beds from 2016.
"Some are at home, some are in special care homes and some are in the hospital," Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said in an interview Wednesday, about seniors waiting to be placed in nursing care.
"We are working on an aging-in-place strategy and trying to utilize the vacant beds that are there now in special care homes and in the nursing homes," he added.
Fitch said 600 new nursing home beds are scheduled to be opened over the next five years. "We've moved forward with some request for proposals in that area," he said. "We are moving ahead on that file."
The procedure the government uses to request proposals for new nursing homes has been streamlined, which Fitch said should speed things up.
Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents Rights, says the government should concentrate on helping seniors remain in their own homes instead of putting them into nursing facilities.
"I spoke to the minister yesterday afternoon and I said to him we have to quit building nursing homes and we need an action plan in place because people want to live at home," she said Wednesday. "They want to live in their community. People don't want to go to nursing homes."
She said the whole idea behind New Brunswick's extramural program — which provides home- and community-based health care to seniors — was to help keep people out of hospital. "Obviously they're not utilizing it to the level they should be," she said.
Cassista said when it comes to new nursing homes, her group would prefer to see small, 60-bed facilities that are community-run, rather than large for-profit facilities.
She cautioned against putting large numbers of seniors in nursing homes — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — where the virus can easily spread. There have been a number of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in New Brunswick.
Fitch said his department is working to help seniors remain in their own homes as long as possible.
"We want to work with the Health Department, extramural, and the health authorities, making sure the seniors are looked after and getting the care they need, where they need it and when they need it," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press