A Liberal MLA on the New Brunswick Political Panel says he doesn't believe government oversight of the special care sector is adequate, and it shouldn't have taken an investigative report by CBC News for the province to realize it.
"One person to care for 18 seniors makes no sense," Robert Gauvin, MLa for Shediac Bay-Dieppe, said on the panel devoted to the province's special care sector.
He was referring to a pilot project approved by the Progressive Conservative government that allowed some northern New Brunswick nursing homes to operate with fewer workers than usual. Some former employees and family members say care at the Lokia-owned homes declined as a result.
"It looks like it was done secretly, from what we hear, so this is very disheartening," Gauvin said.
LISTEN | Political panelists talk about the special care sector in New Brunswick.
He said the saddest part is that the pandemic blocked families from visiting their loved ones, so they couldn't see the lack of care for themselves.
Gauvin said New Brunswick should be setting an example for the rest of the country, as the province with the largest senior population per capita.
He pointed to nurse shortages and said the province should reduce restrictions on foreign working nurses who currently cannot work in New Brunswick because their credentials aren't recognized.
"This would be helpful … we could have more people working here right now if we would tackle that file."
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin agreed and said he's seen foreign workers who are trained as nurses and licensed practical nurses forced to take minimum-wage jobs in fast-food chains to make ends meet.
"At some point, we have to give our head a shake and say, 'How do we give these folks an opportunity to quickly get into the system?'" said Austin.
He said the barriers keeping people from getting into the long-term care sector need to be removed, and the government has to make sure funding is available for when it happens.
"It's important to make sure the inspections are done … it all goes back to making sure the homes are operating within the regulations," he said.
"We want to make sure that our loved ones are being looked after. It's a vulnerable sector of the population and that's why it's important to do it."
Special care needs its own department
Green Party Leader David Coon wants the province to create a department dedicated solely to the long-term home sector.
He said frontline services at the Department of Social Development are severely underfunded and understaffed, which is the root of the problem.
He said the inspection processes are tedious and lengthy, which he thinks make inspectors lose track of what's most important.
Coon also pointed to the disconnect between government and care homes owned by corporations. He used the Atholville special care home Manoir de la Vallée, which is owned by Lokia Group and was used for the pilot project, as an example.
"There's a huge disconnect, because the guy who runs the corporation from outside of the province was quite happy with the way it ran, and we have staff who were there that said it was a disaster," said Coon.
"The care of the residents of that special care home deteriorated significantly."
Coon said removing senior care from the Department of Social Development would ensure long-term care centres and their residents are valued and receive the care they need.
"While the staff care, the system does not," he said.
Bruce Fitch, the minister of social development, said he's confident most special care home residents are getting proper care.
"I know during COVID-19 some of the inspections were not being done and some of the inspections were being done but not reported on the website, which led to a bit of confusion,"
Fitch said 75 per cent of special care homes, 99 per cent of "memory care" homes and 100 per cent of nursing homes in the province have been inspected and have a valid licence.