N.S. long-term care minister hopes for progress soon on freeing up hospital beds

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Northwood in Halifax was one of the long-term care homes to see a reduction in bed numbers as an infection control precaution. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Northwood in Halifax was one of the long-term care homes to see a reduction in bed numbers as an infection control precaution. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's minister of seniors and long-term care hopes to see "significant changes" within the next month in getting people out of hospital beds and into more appropriate settings.

Barb Adams was responding after staff from her department said earlier this week that there are 355 people taking up in-patient hospital beds while awaiting long-term care placements. The effort has been stalled in part because 25 long-term care sites have hit pause on taking new admissions or are only accepting new residents under certain circumstances — a decision tied to staffing availability.

On average right now, a person in hospital waits 91 days before being moved to a long-term care site, taking up a bed in the meantime that emergency department staff are often desperate to access for incoming patients.

"It's outrageous and it's unacceptable," Adams told reporters Thursday following a cabinet meeting. "None of it is OK."

Change to isolation requirements should help

Nova Scotia has struggled for years to keep up with the demand for long-term care beds, with need far outstripping new builds.

Adams said that was made worse early in the COVID-19 pandemic when, in an effort to improve infection control, sites were no longer allowed to have more than two residents in a room.

More recently, the Omicron variant has made a bad situation worse, as hundreds of staff are off due to isolation requirements tied to either a positive COVID-19 test or notice that they are a close contact.

Adams said the recent change in isolation requirements, which cuts quarantine time to seven days from 10 in some cases, will help.

"We're starting to see that that is making it easier on our staff," she said.

"I'm hoping within the next month we will see significant changes, especially as more people get vaccinated and we have fewer staff that have to be home."

The minister said her department has taken other steps recently, including assigning human resources staff to some long-term care homes to help them find additional care staff.

Adams said the department is also examining ways to provide more home support for people awaiting placements, and the possible conversion of some empty residential care beds.

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