Province announces $2.5M to buy equipment to help prevent, manage bedsores

The provincial government will spend $2.5 million to help with the treatment and prevention of pressure injuries in long-term care homes, but none of that support will include additional staff.

Health Minister Randy Delorey made the announcement Thursday. The government will pay $1.68 million for 500 special air mattresses and 100 pressure redistribution cushions. An additional $880,000 will buy 209 ceiling lifts to help long-term care staff move residents more safely.

The government is partnering with the Red Cross on the effort, with the province giving the Red Cross the funds to do a bulk purchase. The charity will distribute the equipment to facilities that need it across the province, ensuring staff know how to use it and providing any necessary maintenance.

Chris Baert-Wilson, director of operations for the Red Cross in Nova Scotia, said the equipment will meet the need within the system and is based on a calculation of the total beds in the province and the number of residents requiring supplies.

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Baert-Wilson said the Red Cross has worked with the Health Department on the plan for about three months and they expect to have most of the equipment in place by June.

"We are ready to go," she said. "We've been working to have this — as we call it — a rapid deployment."

Josie Ryan, the executive director for long-term care at Northwood in Halifax, said the mattresses make "a huge difference" in the prevention of pressure injuries, which are also known as bedsores.

In the past, she said, homes would do an assessment of residents upon arrival and then apply to the Red Cross for supplies. But sometimes there could be a wait of up to six weeks to get a mattress or cushion, during which time a resident's condition could deteriorate.

"Now we'll be able to get a mattress prior to anything happening," she said.

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Delorey also announced that inspection reports for long-term care homes will be posted online beginning in May, along with quarterly data releases related to protection for persons in care. 

Quarterly data on pressure injuries will be posted online starting in July and a provincial wound care policy is also now in place.

All of this work stems from the case of Chrissy Dunnington, a 40-year-old woman who died from an infection connected to a major bedsore she developed in a Halifax long-term care facility.

The government, in response, appointed an independent expert panel on long-term care to examine the situation and make recommendations for improved care. At the top of those recommendations was more staff and "hubs of experts" homes could tap into when necessary.

A Health Department spokesperson said Thursday's announcement focused on short-term recommendations that were ready now. Work continues on the recommendations that will take more time.

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NDP Leader Gary Burill said he was pleased to see the announcement of new equipment, although he'd like to have heard more staff were being hired.

Burrill was most dismayed, however, that there remains no plan for the government to open new long-term care beds or renovate existing ones in the Halifax area.

"The fact that this is not at the top of the minister's list is particularly disturbing," he said.

Since coming to power in 2013, the McNeil government has not built any new long-term care beds, choosing instead to first focus on home care. Last year the government announced it would build 50 new beds in Cape Breton, although a timeline for that work has yet to be established.

No timeframe for new beds

As for when new beds might come to the Halifax area or other parts of the province, Delorey said staff in his department are working to understand where expansions might be required and what the effect has been of increased funding for home-care support, but he couldn't say when or if an announcement might come.

"We need to make sure we've looked at the data appropriately, and that work is ongoing," he said.

"I don't have a timeframe for that."

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