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Nova Scotia to add beds and upgrade long-term care homes in wake of COVID-19 deaths

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WATCH ABOVE: After COVID-19 wreaked havoc on Nova Scotia’s long-term care sector, the provincial government has announced plans to spend $96.5 million on infrastructure improvements. The changes are expected to reduce wait times for placement, but as Elizabeth McSheffrey reports, some continuing care sector leaders are concerned that investments in staffing won’t meet the needs of infrastructure expansions – Jul 9, 2021

The Nova Scotia government is announcing the creation of new nursing home beds, along with upgrades to 17 care facilities, saying the improvements will incorporate lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an announcement Friday, Premier Iain Rankin pledged a total of $96.5 million to add 264 new beds in the province’s central zone and to replace and upgrade 1,298 beds at 14 existing nursing homes and three residential care facilities around the province.

The funds are part of the $1-billion commitment to the continuing care sector made in the March 2021-2022 budget.

READ MORE: The Canadian long-term care dilemma — where are we headed?

The first project is expected to be complete by 2026-27, with the Health Department projecting a reduction in average wait times across the province to two months, down from the current five to six months, as the work is completed.

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“We’re catching up with, certainly, decades of underfunding in long-term care,” said Michele Lowe, executive director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association.

“While we welcome all of these wonderful announcements in terms of investment, there certainly are some issues that leave us a little unsettled.”

Lowe said the continuing care sector in Nova Scotia has been advocated for years for a clearly articulated vision from the province, and would like to see staffing numbers and wages that reflect the expansions it has now announced.

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A review published last September into 53 deaths at the Northwood facility in Halifax during the pandemic’s first wave concluded shared rooms and staffing shortages were among the key factors contributing to the outbreaks and spread of COVID-19.

A news release from the province says the all of the upgrades will result in single rooms with their own bathrooms.

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“These residences will be built according to space and design standards that put the needs of residents first,” said Rankin, “with smaller households, private bathrooms and a greater focus on infection prevention and control.”

READ MORE: Isolated long-term care residents left behind in Nova Scotia’s Phase 2 plan, say families

The province says of the total being committed, almost $65 million will go to replace beds, make repairs and renovate the 17 existing facilities, while close to $30 million will go to add new beds in the central zone, which includes the Halifax area.

Roughly $1.8 million will also be spent on facility assessments, new management systems for bed vacancy and infrastructure, and staff to oversee the completion of the projects.

Both the Dykeland Lodge in Windsor, N.S. and the Glen Haven Manor in New Glasgow, N.S. were on the list of 17 facilities identified for repairs or renovations on Friday, but their administrators said the province has not revealed which of those options they will get.

“Obviously Dykeland wants the new facility, we right now have residents who are sharing two rooms and four people sharing a washroom and that’s not ideal,” Dykeland administrator Krista Beeler told Global News. “There’s no place to build where we currently are.”

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Beeler said she’s optimistic the province’s announcement will meet her facility’s future demands.

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Glen Haven Manor, said CEO Lisa Smith, was on the province’s list of facilities in need of attention in 2013 and in 2016, and hopes this will be the year the province commits to a new facility, while repairing and upgrading the existing mechanical and electrical issues in the meantime.

While grateful to be on the list, she added, she hopes the province will also fund more staff positions across the province.

With files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey

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