Nova Scotia adds 600 new long-term care beds to planned system increase

HALIFAX — Long-term care facilities across Nova Scotia are to get another 600 single occupancy rooms as the provincial government strives to meet current and future demand.

The announcement Wednesday by Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Barbara Adams builds on another 600 beds that were pledged last February and is now part of a plan to add 1,200 single rooms to the network by 2027.

Adams said that by 2027, the province's long-term care system will have 9,200 beds compared with the current 8,000.

“Demand for nursing homes is expected to grow,” said Adams. "As we were doing an analysis of the trend in population growth and the wait-list for each of the facilities … we certainly knew that the number of projected (rooms) was not going to come anywhere close to meeting the need."

Figures provided by the government project the province’s population of those aged 65 and over is expected to reach about 300,000 by 2031. Nova Scotia currently has the third largest percentage of people 65 and older in the country at 21.8 per cent.

The plan is to add 28 new single rooms to the network this year, then 812 new rooms in 2025 and another 340 in 2027.

“COVID-19 has made it the standard level of care,” Adams said of building single rooms. “It is certainly our policy … and that’s what Nova Scotians now want.”

Officials said the new rooms, coupled with another 2,300 replacement beds, will add about $250 million in new annual spending to the province's long-term care budget, which will be more than $1.1 billion by 2027.

Adams said the idea is also to help reduce stress on the province’s health system, with around 280 people currently waiting in hospital for a long-term care bed. The overall provincial wait-list is just under 2,000 people, officials said.

Ron Swan, of the volunteer Seniors’ Advisory Council of Nova Scotia, called the addition of more beds “a significant step forward.”

And while it won’t meet demand immediately, Swan said it’s hoped the government’s continued emphasis on home care would also “help fill the (demand) gap.”

“That’s where most people would rather remain, is in their own home,” he said. “There are some technology changes and some other things that are being brought to bear that’s going to allow more people to stay at home than there are right now.”

The Opposition Liberals and the NDP also welcomed the announcement, but said it fell short of the Progressive Conservative government's election promise in 2021 to add 2,500 new beds within three years.

“We are concerned about ensuring there’s enough staffing for the beds,” said Liberal deputy leader Kelly Regan.

Adams said she believes the province is beginning to chip away at staffing shortages, although she said challenges remain in some rural areas. No numbers were provided on the number of staff still required by the system.

In December 2021, the government announced funding to address continuing care staffing issues, including $22 million over two years to cover tuition costs for over 2,000 students in continuing care assistant programs.

Another $8 million went to help long-term care homes with funding to offer their casual and part-time employees full-time positions or to hire more staff to provide direct care.

“We have made a significant dent … but we still have a long way to go,” Adams said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2023.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press