'Why are these resources being wasted?': Empty P.E.I. nursing home beds puzzle patient's family

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'Why are these resources being wasted?': Empty P.E.I. nursing home beds puzzle patient's family

As about 130 Islanders wait for a nursing care bed, some are asking why there are vacant beds in P.E.I. seniors homes the province has not approved for use. 

​Andrews of Stratford is a community care facility that converted an entire wing of 24 beds for seniors with higher-level needs. The beds have been ready and vacant since August 2016. CBC reported on the conversion more than a year ago. 

"They're all ready to go, they have all the equipment, it's beautiful," said Valerie MacKenzie. Her 94-year-old mother lives at Andrews of Stratford but is in declining health and may soon need nursing care. 

MacKenzie said she was "delighted" when Andrews began renovating to offer nursing care — it meant her mother wouldn't have to experience the trauma of moving to another facility.

Letter to the minister

MacKenzie wrote to P.E.I. Health Minister Robert Henderson in mid-February, asking, "Why are these resources being wasted?"

"We have many seniors who are languishing in hospital beds, waiting for a place in a nursing home. Does it cost less to keep them in the hospital?" she continued in her email. 

To date, MacKenzie said, she not had a response from the minister.

Last week, Henderson announced a review of long-term care beds on P.E.I., and was asked why the vacant beds in Stratford hadn't yet been allowed a licence.

"When we're dealing with private entrepreneurs across the province and they're identifying potential needs — they're building these facilities for community care, they can use these beds at the moment for community care," Henderson responded.

Of the 131 people on a waiting list for long-term care, Henderson noted 48 are in hospital, 72 are at home and the remainder are in community care.

The government is now in the process of renovating two provincially-owned manors in Tyne Valley, P.E.I., and Montague, P.E.I., but that will not add any new beds to the system.

'Limited resources'

The government's priority now is to determine how many more beds it needs to allocate with its "limited resources," Henderson explained, and where on P.E.I. they're needed. 

Any new beds are a big financial commitment: government must pay $99 per day in medical costs for each new licence, as well as subsidize what's called the accommodation cost of $82.59 per day for some low-income Islanders.

"I do agree with the concept of trying to provide those beds in community care facilities, and that's the direction we'll be going in our long-term care bed designations," Henderson said — a comment that gives Valerie MacKenzie hope. 

The matter has become urgent for MacKenzie's family, as her mother's abilities will be formally assessed in the next few weeks — so she hopes the government's plan is forthcoming soon. 

'Doesn't seem humane'

"I would be so happy if she could stay within the same facility," said MacKenzie. "To me it doesn't make sense to take someone who may be dealing with confusion issues out of familiar surroundings into a totally new facility with totally new people — it just doesn't seem humane to me."

Andrews of Stratford, owned by Andrews Senior Care, is also eager to hear the minister's plans. 

"Andrews of Stratford has 24 newly-renovated long term care beds available and awaiting licensing by the Province," said vice-president Jeff Murphy.  

"We are optimistic that the Minister may consider granting us a temporary licence for 24 beds to alleviate pressure on the system until the Department of Health completes its planning process," said Murphy.

Not the first time 

South Shore Villa in Crapaud — between Charlottetown and Summerside — built a $2 million expansion for four to six nursing home beds back in 2013, which the government so far hasn't licensed. The facility is now owned by MacLeod Group, which owns 12 seniors' homes in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. 

"It's certainly a risk to go ahead without licences," said MacLeod Group CEO Ramsay Duff. "I think, like a lot of operators, the demands are going to justify the risk." 

Duff said his understanding is that most of the demand right now for nursing beds is in Queens County, and that those will be for specialty areas including dementia and respite care — demand which South Shore Villa is lobbying government to meet.

"We are hopeful we can get licences to provide care in those areas, what I call unmet demand," said Duff. 

Risky business 

Dr. John Gillis Memorial Lodge in Belfast is also halfway through a $3.4 million expansion that will net the 81-bed facility 19 more nursing beds when it's done in August, even though government has not yet issued a request for proposals (RFP) for any new beds in the province.

"There is a big need," said owner Doug MacKenzie. "The phone is ringing every day and we're saying no, we don't have any room. "

"It is a bit of a risk all right," MacKenzie admitted, adding that in his experience, government prefers to offer licences when they can see the facilities already in place. 

"I am confident," he said, that government will see his new facility and award Gillis Lodge new licences. Providing nursing care to area seniors is "something rural P.E.I. can do," MacKenzie said, noting that many patients there come from the area and know one another.

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