HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government is expanding its revamp of the long-term care sector, adding thousands more care rooms to address increasing demands from a growing — and aging — population.
The province will add or replace 2,200 rooms to the long-term care network by 2032 — in addition to the 3,500 new rooms announced in January that are expected to open by 2027, Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Barbara Adams announced Monday.
Adams said the January announcement was meant to address an urgent need for rooms in the Halifax area, and that the expanded multi-year plan covers the entire province and is in response to new population data released in the summer.
“Today about 22 per cent of our population are seniors,” Adams said. “This number is expected to increase to at least 25 per cent by 2032.”
Monday’s announcement includes 800 new, single, long-term care rooms and 1,400 existing rooms that will be either upgraded or replaced. Adams said work is to begin this fall on the newly announced rooms, with 336 slated for three new nursing homes in the Halifax area.
The rough cost estimate to the province for the 2,200 new and replacement rooms is $184 million, officials said.
Increasing capacity in long-term care will reduce the pressure on hospitals and emergency rooms, Adams said, adding that about 1,700 people are on a wait list for a long-term care bed, including about 300 people in hospital.
“Some of our most vulnerable Nova Scotians have been waiting far too long in hospital beds for a room in a long-term care facility. That isn’t what hospitals are for,” Adams said.
She told reporters there would likely be further updates to the overall plan as officials conduct yearly evaluations of population trends.
The government has announced 34 projects to increase the number of long-term care beds. A replacement facility, Villa Acadienne, opened in Meteghan, N.S., in September, while seven other long-term care homes broke ground this month. Another 10 new or replacement facilities are expected to begin construction by next spring.
The 336 Halifax-area rooms announced Monday will be located in three nursing homes awaiting or under construction, including two new 144-room nursing homes operated by Shannex. Forty-eight rooms are being added to a new facility in Tantallon, N.S., operated by Gem Healthcare that will increase the facility to 144 rooms.
Jason Shannon, president of Shannex, said the construction climate is challenging given the cost of building materials and lack of skilled labour, although he said those issues haven't prevented progress on his company’s expansion plans.
“The next two homes that we are going to work on, we have our building permits ready to go and we will start those immediately,” he said.
Shannon also said that overseas recruitment efforts along with such things as increased pay for continuing care assistants has helped to address staffing shortages at long-term care facilities.
“We are finding it easier now hiring new people and attracting new people to health care,” said Shannon.
But Liberal health critic Kelly Regan wondered whether the health-care sector can find enough people to work in the new nursing homes.
“Certainly more beds is a good thing,” Regan said. “But they don’t have enough people to staff the homes they have now, so that’s our big concern.”
Last week, Tracey Barbrick, deputy minister for the Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care, told the legislature’s health committee that there are staffing shortages of close to 10 per cent across the home-care and long-term care systems.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press