Seniors in chairs in the parking lot of a residential care home.
Melville Lodge residents watch the press conference in August 2020. Melville Lodge was one of 27 homes slated for expansion and renovations. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Barbara Adams, Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care, issued a call for suppliers interested in building 500 new single rooms in nursing homes across the Halifax Regional Municipality. It’s the first major announcement of new construction since the Progressive Conservatives took office and it comes at a time when there are more than 1,900 frail elderly people, including 330 in hospitals, waiting for a bed.

“Nova Scotians have to wait far too long to get into a long-term care facility and part of the solution is building more single-bed rooms and staffing them properly,” Adams said. “Almost 2,000 people need a place in long-term care, and hundreds of them are waiting in a hospital. We need to make sure people get the care they need, and hospital beds are available for people who need them. With an aging population that is amongst the oldest in Canada, the need for this investment is even more urgent.”

These 500 new single rooms are in addition to 2,000 new rooms being created as a result of either upgrades or expansions underway at 27 nursing homes across the province. Those renovations were announced by the previous Liberal government and 2023 is the earliest expected completion date for some of the homes below. Here’s the list of approved projects, which was released on Monday:

  • Mahone in Mahone Bay
  • Villa Acadienne, Meteghan
  • Kiknu Long-Term Care Facility, Eskasoni
  • Taigh Solas, North Sydney
  • Waterford Heights, New Waterford
  • Grandview Manor, Berwick
  • Mountain Lea Lodge, Bridgetown
  • Shoreham Village, Chester Basin
  • Northwood, Fall River
  • The Birches, Musquodoboit Harbour
  • Foyer Pere Fiset, Cheticamp
  • R.C. MacGillivray Guest Home, Sydney
  • Queens Manor/Hillsview Acres, Liverpool
  • Dykeland Lodge, Windsor
  • Carefield Guest Home/Dominion Guest Home, Glace Bay
  • Harbour View Haven, Lunenburg
  • Wolfville Nursing Home, Wolfville
  • Gables Lodge, Amherst
  • Melville Lodge, Halifax
  • Glen Haven, New Glasgow
  • Victoria Haven, Glace Bay
  • R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home, Antigonish
  • Valley View Villa, Stellarton
  • Highland Manor, Neils Harbour
  • St. Anne’s Community and Nursing Care Centre, Arichat
  • Roseway Nursing Home, Shelburne
  • Maple Hill Manor, New Waterford

The news release yesterday was at pains to point out the announcement of the new construction in HRM combined with the list of upgrades currently underway (or being designed) would fulfil the commitment that helped get the Progressive Conservatives elected last August.

“The 500 beds are in addition to more than 2,000 new or improved beds already in progress at 27 facilities,” the release read. “When complete, these construction projects will create or improve more than 2,800 beds across the province, exceeding the government’s goal of building or renovating 2,500 beds over three years.”

two women assist an elderly woman
Continuing Care Assistants Kamal Kaur, left, and Sherlyn Monteroso, right, help resident Hilary Wellard at Saint Vincent’s Nursing Home in Halifax. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia Credit: Communications Nova Scotia

Note the “new and improved” words in the paragraph above. It’s a nuance or side shuffle from the language used in the Tories’ campaign literature before the election. The party’s “Dignity for Seniors” platform promised to “open an additional 2500 single room long-term care beds within three years.”

After taking office in September, that election promise of “additional beds” morphed into the following directive from the premier to the Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care: “As Minister you will renovate and build 2,500 single rooms over three years”.

Adams has also been tasked with writing to the federal government to beg money to fund an additional 1,000 spaces. For now at least, the emphasis will continue to be on renovations. According to the Department of Seniors and Long-term Care spokesperson Toby Koffman, those 27 projects represent a total of 2,300 rooms undergoing upgrades.

The Liberal Opposition critic for Seniors and Long-term Care was quick to characterize the announcement of 500 new beds as “recycled.”

“I’m happy to see the Houston government follow through on a very important project we initiated during our time in government,” said Kelly Regan. “Now that we see the need for long-term care beds dramatically increase under this government, it is curious that the Premier seems content with a plan he once heavily criticized.”

Since forming government five months ago, the Houston government and Minister of Long-Term Care have invested more than $57 million to try and attract more staff to work in nursing homes, including CCAs, nurses, and nurse practitioners. Student nurses have been pressed into service this week. More money is available through grants to help seniors stay in their homes longer. The Department of Seniors and Long-term Care is working with Veterans Affairs and the Department of Community Services to find additional single rooms at Camp Hill Hospital and in residential care facilities for disabled adults.

Yesterday’s announcement drew this response from one well known long-term care operator.

“Northwood is thrilled to be a part of this incredible investment in long-term care,” said Janet Simm, CEO of Northwood Inc. “The planning for a state-of-the-art facility in Fall River is underway. This new facility will provide a home for 144 individuals and will be a part of a larger campus that will support seniors and the community to live more.”

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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