With his budget not even passed, Premier Iain Rankin says his government is already considering needs for more long-term care beds.
But opposition leaders say he needs to do more sooner.
Rankin faced questions for the second day in a row at the legislature about the Liberal government's track record on long-term care. Since the Liberals came to power in 2013, the focus has been on bolstering the home-care system and keeping people in their homes longer.
Critics argue that the lack of investment in long-term care during that time created the environment that allowed for the outbreak of COVID-19, and the initial challenges clamping down on it, at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax last year.
Under former premier Stephen McNeil, the Liberals turned down multiple requests from the facility for money to help cover an expansion.
Rankin told reporters on Friday that delays in doing what is required for long-term care is a problem "consistent across the country."
"There has been a lack of investment in long-term care and our province needs to step up," he said.
The premier said that effort under his watch begins with the 236 new long-term care beds included in the most recent provincial budget, along with more money for staffing. The government also announced on Friday a new program to help with the issue of bedsores.
The government is also working on more beds at other sites based on need related to infection control, said Rankin.
"There's a lot of sites across the province [and] we have limited resources," he said. "We're trying our best to make sure that the right investments are made."
Although this budget includes a four-year plan to balance the books, Rankin said he wouldn't put balancing the budget "in front of the priority that is more important, which is addressing health-care needs of Nova Scotians."
But Tory Leader Tim Houston said that's what will happen if the government doesn't take a more immediate approach to addressing the deficiencies in the long-term care system.
Last August, the Tories outlined a plan based on forming government after the next election that would see 2,500 new beds built in four years, 3,500 if they could get the necessary help from the federal government.
"There's a big investment that's required in this province in people, there's a big investment that's required in infrastructure," he told reporters.
"The government has ignored those. They've looked the other way and pretended they haven't existed."
NDP Leader Gary Burrill pointed to the 1,000 new beds built during the former NDP government's four-year term.
Had the Liberals continued at that rate when they formed government, he said, there's a good chance the province wouldn't be dealing with the waiting list of 1,500 people it has now, and issues such as infection control would be better in hand, said Burrill.
"In this pandemic situation where we know the burden of sorrow has landed on long-term care as it has landed nowhere else, it ought to be a greater priority for the government of Nova Scotia to address what they failed to address from 2013 until now."
Despite all the announcements in recent years about plans and designs for new long-term care beds, Burrill said the government has only actually opened 57 new beds since the Liberals came to power in 2013.
"Pretty small potatoes," he said.
"What is required is focused, expedited, urgent emergency-level construction of one-resident-one-room facilities in long-term care."
Government using modelling projections
The decision to build 236 new beds follows Health Department analysis. Health Minister Zach Churchill said in a recent interview that modelling work will continue as the government tries to determine what to do next with capital planning.
"We want to make decisions that make sense from a long-term perspective," he said.
Janice Keefe, the director of the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging and a professor and researcher at Mount Saint Vincent University, said modelling can be an effective tool in gauging future needs, but it's key that it considers a variety of factors besides age-based demographics.
"One of the big factors is trying to estimate the needs of the population," she said.
"You need to understand the factors of education, wealth, marital status, you know, all those variables contribute to the likelihood that someone will be going to long-term care."
Not enough focus on chronic care
When she participated in demographic projection work focused on the city of Montreal through 2050, Keefe said the team looked at things such as the number of surviving children people have, the comprehensiveness of home-care programs for people with dementia and housing options for people who need some help but not 24-hour nursing care.
Rankin said the province's health-care system has been more focused on addressing acute care and "there hasn't been enough emphasis on the chronic care needs of Nova Scotians with an aging population."
That's something he's pledging to address.
"We're looking at doing more in the months ahead," he said.
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