Nova Scotia is spending $96.5 million on creating new long-term care beds and renovating facilities, Premier Iain Rankin announced Friday morning.
The money will be used to add 264 new beds in the central zone and replace 1,298 beds at 14 nursing homes and three residential care facilities across the province.
"This is about rejuvenating the sector, because we are determined to change the face of long-term care," Rankin said during the announcement, which was held at MacLeod Victoria Haven Nursing Home in Glace Bay, N.S.
"This investment will provide better living to our loved ones and better career opportunities for our workforce."
The breakdown of the spending is as follows:
$29.9 million to add 264 new beds in the central zone to reduce wait times to two months.
$792,000 to hire nine permanent, full-time employees to oversee and support the projects.
$615,000 to procure bed vacancy management and infrastructure management systems.
$405,000 to assess facilities that are more than 25 years old.
The spending is in addition to funding announced in January to add 236 beds in the central zone and renovate or replace seven facilities.
The construction and renovation projects at facilities will allow for smaller households, private bedrooms and bathrooms and better infection prevention and control, Rankin said during the announcement.
"I do think that this is what we need to do to prevent a virus — whether it's COVID or influenza or other viruses — from having any impact of spreading in facilities.
"I think this has been something that all governments of all stripes — and you see it in different provinces — have not paid enough attention and made the required investments to ensure that we have more modern standards.… That's why we've made these critical investments."
Last year, 100 beds were removed from the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax to convert shared rooms to single rooms after COVID-19 swept through the facility, killing 53 residents.
Nina Nicholson, whose husband has been a patient at Victoria Haven for a couple of years, said she was worried when COVID-19 hit.
"They did an excellent job," she said of the facility. "Their rules were strict and they stuck with what they said, but it's paid off."
Nicholson said although her husband is already in a private room, she hopes to see more private accommodations offered to other patients.
New beds will help reduce wait times
Right now, the average provincial wait time for a long-term care bed is five or six months. In the central zone, where demand is greater, the average wait is eight months.
Once all the new beds are ready, the wait time will be reduced to two months, Rankin said.
A tender for the 236 new beds announced in January and the 264 new beds announced Friday will be issued in August. Health Minister Zach Churchill said the January beds will be ready in 2024-5 and the beds announced Friday will be ready in 2026-7.
New beds announced in 2019 will be ready to be occupied next year, Churchill said.
Rankin said the spending on a bed management system will also allow administrators to fill vacancies more quickly, reduce wait times for placements and lessen administrative work for placement staff.
A new assessment tool will also be introduced to develop individualized care plans and monitor health changes in residents. The tool will be used across the sector, meaning consistent information will be gathered and shared as needed with care providers.
"This is about respect for those who live in long-term care facilities who deserve to live in dignity and be cared for in safe and welcoming environments," Rankin said. "This is about the true meaning of being home."
Michele Lowe, the executive director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, said news of the new funding is welcomed and "long overdue."
But Lowe said the long-term care sector already has a critical staffing shortage, especially for continuing care assistants, so the province needs to develop a staffing plan, too.
"If we don't have a workforce, it doesn't matter how many new beds you add, how beautiful they are, we will not have the staff to be able to support them. So the strategy has to address recruitment and retention and it has to address wage. Those are all connected."
Unions that represent workers in long-term care have said low wages and a lack of benefits make staffing a challenge in long-term care. The province recently said a recruitment and retention strategy for continuing care assistants is being developed.
17 facilities to be upgraded
The 17 facilities that will be renovated or replaced include:
Carefield Manor Residential Care Facility in Sydney.
Dominion Community Guest Home in Dominion, Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
Dykeland Lodge in Windsor.
Gables Lodge in Amherst.
Glen Haven Manor in New Glasgow.
Harbourview Haven in Lunenburg.
Highland Manor in Neils Harbour, Victoria Co.
Hillsview Acres Home for Special Care in Greenfield, Queens Co.
MacLeod Victoria Haven Nursing Home in Glace Bay.
Maple Hill Manor in New Waterford.
Melville Lodge in Halifax.
Queens Manor in Liverpool.
RK MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish.
Roseway Nursing Home in Shelburne.
St. Anne Community & Nursing Care Centre in Arichat, Richmond Co.
Valley View Villa in Stellarton.
Wolfville Nursing Home in Wolfville.
The first project is expected to be completed by 2026-7.
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