Special care home operators say a plan by the province to move hospital patients into long-term care facilities faster is a welcome move, but long overdue.
The government announced recently that it would work with long-term care homes to create emergency care beds for hospital patients currently waiting to be placed in a home.
The province says it's part of efforts to alleviate pressure on the health-care system at a time when New Brunswick is seeing a record level of hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
In a news release at the time, the province said emergency long-term care beds will be approved by the Department of Social Development using vacant beds in long-term care — primarily special care — facilities in the province.
The beds will provide alternate placements for patients who are waiting in hospitals until a bed in their preferred location becomes available, the release said.
"The Department of Social Development will work with long-term care home operators to ensure the needs of clients are met. Residents occupying emergency long-term care beds will remain on wait lists for the facility of their choice."
Jan Seely, president of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association, said she welcomes the initiative, but added it should have been done a long time ago.
Seely said for years, the province has unfairly funded special care beds, leading to patients being disproportionately directed to nursing homes, which offer more intensive and clinical care to residents.
Seely said as part of the new plan, the province will be offering more funding for certain special care beds, allowing more special care homes to take on clients who would have previously been directed to nursing homes.
"We have 7,000 [special care] beds in this province that are approved and licensed, and we have probably 800 of them that are vacant and we are a viable solution for at least 40 or 50 per cent of the people that are waiting in hospitals," Seely said.
"So COVID, as much as it has brought difficulty to everyone across the world, it has brought to the forefront and highlighted the gaps and the long overdue problems that we've had in our system."
CBC News asked the Department of Social Development how the initiative will work.
In an email, spokesperson Rebecca Howland said there are currently more than 600 patients in hospitals across the province waiting to be moved to a long-term care home.
She said it is still too early to know how many emergency beds the province will be able to create, but the department is working with partners to assess the availability of beds and the number of placements that can be made in coming weeks.
"For now, we are focusing on determining which facilities and beds are able to safely accommodate prospective transfers from hospital so we can respond when necessary," she said.
Howland said emergency long-term care beds are intended as a short-term measure for patients that are waiting in hospitals until a bed in their preferred location becomes available.
The emergency placements will offer a home-like alternative to people while they are waiting for their preferred home.
"We are asking people to consider this a better alternative than waiting in a hospital bed, and it should be noted this decision will not impact their wait time for a placement in their preferred home," she said.
"We are aware many facilities are struggling with the same issues the hospitals have related to staffing and cannot support additional clients at this time. We will work with the operators who do feel they have capacity to admit."
Howland said homes that have active COVID-19 responses or outbreaks will not be considered for emergency beds until they are cleared by Public Health.
Eileen MacGibbon, vice-president of clinical services for Horizon Health Network, in an email statement said persons waiting to be moved to long-term care homes make up about a quarter of all their patients in hospital.
Thomas Lizotte, spokesperson for Vitalité Health Network, said that figure is about 29 per cent across the health network's hospitals.
And I'm thankful for that but yes people have suffered unintended consequences for waiting too long to be discharged properly.
- Amy McNair, owner of McNair Manor
Amy McNair, owner and operator of McNair Manor in Moncton, also welcomes the province's initiative.
She said she has taken on additional residents since the province's new push to move patients out of hospitals and into long-term care homes.
She said she's fully staffed and is providing skilled nursing services she already had. The only difference now is the province is providing "the appropriate subsidy so that a person in need of my level of care can access it equitably."
"I think a lot of clients have waited unnecessarily long periods of time waiting in hospital or in unsafe situations at home and it took the global pandemic to move the idea forward of matching the cost of care to the service.
"And I'm thankful for that, but yes, people have suffered unintended consequences for waiting too long to be discharged properly."