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N.S. long-term care sector welcomes legislation keeping couples together in homes

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Long-term care sector welcomes new legislation keeping couples together in homes
WATCH: New legislation takes effect in March that will ensure Nova Scotian couples are not separated in long-term care homes because their care needs are different. As Elizabeth McSheffrey reports, nursing home administrators have advocated for this change, tired of hearing "heartbreaking" stories of loved ones living kilometres apart – Feb 5, 2021

Leaders in Nova Scotia’s long-term care sector are applauding a new law that will ensure couples can live together in nursing homes, even if their care needs are vastly different.

On Thursday, the provincial government confirmed the Life Partners in Long Term Care Act has been proclaimed and will take effect on March 1.

“As a sector, we have definitely been advocating for this for quite a long time,” said Michele Lowe, managing director for the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association.

“We’ve seen over the years heartbreaking examples of families that have been separated simply because they couldn’t get two beds together.”

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The Life Partners in Long Term Care Act was first announced in February last year and will cover Nova Scotians admitted to any one of the 133 long-term care homes licensed and funded by the province.

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Premier Stephen McNeil said work is underway with the federal government to ensure this applies to homes with veterans’ units as well.

Prior to the legislation, Nova Scotian couples could be placed in different facilities based on each person’s care requirements, and the availability of beds to meet those particular needs in homes.

Starting next month, however, if a person requires a residential care bed, but their spouse has higher needs that warrant a more expensive long-term care bed, both will be placed together even if the home has no residential care beds available.

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Krista Beeler, administrator of the Dykeland Lodge in Windsor, N.S., said nursing homes have been working provincial placement teams to keep couples together for years.

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She welcomes the legislation, however, as it will ensure reunification is at the top of the placement priority list.

“We had a gentleman here whose wife was at another property in the city and he was desperate to be with her,” she explained.

“We were able to get her transferred into our facility, until she unfortunately did pass away, but they were able to spend their last days together as a couple, so it was lovely.”

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As it stands, there are three couples living happily together at the Dykeland Lodge, she added, all of whom have celebrated birthdays, Christmases and anniversaries inside the home.

There are five couples at the Glen Haven Manor in New Glasgow, said its CEO Lisa Smith, who welcomed legislation that “reinforces” their practice of keeping life partners together.

It’s unclear whether the new legislation will impact the waitlist to get into nursing homes for single Nova Scotians, as the reunification of couples begins to take precedence.

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Nova Scotia withheld $229K in funding from long-term care homes over empty beds during COVID-19

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Smith said it’s possible, but predicted it would not be a major obstacle at her facility.

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“Definitely if somebody was to want to live here because their life partner lives here, it may impact somebody who is single, but I don’t think that would happen a lot, I don’t think that extent would be anything that would not be manageable,” she explained.

Lowe added, spouses coming into long-term care at the same time or within months of each other is “not as common as you might think.”

“What’s important to note is that nursing homes have been working with the department and have identified spouses as a priority to begin with,” she told Global News.

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According to the Health Department, roughly 40,000 Nova Scotians receive support from the continuing care sector, and about 1,600 new patients have been moved into long-term care homes since March 2020.

As of Jan. 19, there were 334 vacant beds in the province, and the government recently committed to building 236 more in the Central Zone. As of Feb. 3, there were 1,489 clients on the long-term care waitlist.

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