An NDP government would invest $60 million over four years to establish approximately 500 new nursing home beds and increase the food budget for seniors in long term care facilities.
NDP leader Gary Burrill made that announcement in the parking lot outside the St. Vincent’s Guest House in Halifax, noting the number of people over age 75 will double in 10 years.
“What we need is investment”, said Burrill. “This is an investment that will improve our investment in the present and in the future.”
Burrill was flanked by Jessica Dauphinee, a Licensed Practical Nurse and union rep currently working at Northwood Manor. She said the more than $8 million the McNeil government cut from long-term care over the past two years has meant fewer recreation therapists and lower quality food for residents, budgeted at $4.65 a patient per day.
“We used to be able to afford actual juice, and now they have juice crystals for their apple and grape juice,” said Dauphinee. “It’s not juice, it’s Kool-Aid, flavoured like apple or grape. As well, we don’t have enough rec therapists to stimulate our residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia to keep them from getting worse.”
Dauphinee said the two per cent cut has resulted in layoffs at many homes across the province.
“The severe understaffing became clear to me when I was told shortly after my mother entered her nursing home that our family should hire a part-time, private caregiver to feed her for lunch and supper,” said Ian Johnson, an advocate for seniors and a former researcher with the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. “I was also distressed to see my mother given hot dogs and Cheesies on more than one occasion. Food budgets should never be allowed to be cut to this level.”
In April, prior to the election call, the Liberals introduced a budget which stated that if elected, they would add $3.2 million to “increase food budgets and enhance recreational opportunities for residents in long-term care homes.”
PC leader Jamie Baillie said it was too little, too late. His party announced last week that if it forms the next government, it will restore the $8.2 million a year cut by the Liberals to nursing homes. Over the next four years, that works out to about half as much as the NDP is proposing to spend.
A key difference among the three main political parties is that the NDP is prepared to go into deficit to open more nursing home beds, a commitment which the other parties have so far shunned. The official wait time for a bed in a publicly-funded nursing home stands at about six to seven months. In his capacity as a United Church minister visiting people in hospitals, Gary Burrill claims it is often longer.
“We are already paying for people waiting in hospitals what the health bureaucracy calls ‘alternative levels of care,’” said Burrill. “These are people qualified to go to nursing homes but who are being cared for in hospitals while they wait for a nursing home placement. It’s not at all rare, and I have visited people who have been in that situation for three, six, and nine months, and in Cape Breton, where I last served, up to a year. So it’s not a question of how we will pay — we are paying — and the government has failed to make the investment required.”
Burrill compared the 1,000 beds opened over four years by the NDP Dexter government with the “zero beds” opened by the Liberal McNeil government over three-and-a-half years.
Burrill went on to say that while McNeil told seniors and nursing home operators the province didn’t have any more money, the government approved nearly $500,000 to finish and furnish new offices for top executives with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. That information was reportedly accessed through a Freedom of Information request filed by the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. The offices rented by the Health Authority were carved out of 6,600 square feet of space at 90 Lovett Lake Court in the Bayers Lake Business Park. The building is also home to 89.9 The Wave owned by the Pace Group.
Stephen McNeil was campaigning in Cape Breton on Wednesday, where an increasingly elderly (and vocal) population is concerned there are too few doctors. The Halifax Examiner emailed the premier asking for a response to Gary Burrill’s critique of spending health care money on office space while funding for seniors was being cut.
“I don’t know the size of the renovation,” replied the Liberal leader via email, “but I can tell you when it comes to the cost of the furniture, that absolutely makes no sense to me. We’re trying to provide care to our citizens and spending that kind of money on office furniture in my view is excessive and inappropriate. ”
On Wednesday, the Liberals announced that an additional 400 caregivers will qualify for a $4,800 benefit next year. Currently only those caring for people with severe dementia get that money. The Liberals are promising $25 million over four years to assist more caregivers who look after people with lower levels of dementia and, eventually, mental illness. It’s part of the Liberals’ expanded homecare initiative, which over three years, has reduced homecare wait times from months to mere days.
“We understand many Nova Scotians want to stay in their homes as long as possible,” said McNeil. “By making this change, about 1,600 more Nova Scotians will qualify for financial help.”
While the Liberals have focused on homecare as a strategy to reduce the demand for more expensive nursing home beds, at some point, an even more frail population of elderly men and women who can no longer be cared for at home will still need the beds.