Update: No set plan to free up NB hospital beds. Telegraph Journal – 5 March 2017

John Chilibeck

“We know there’s a big issue with seniors staying in hospital beds when they don’t need to be there,” Coon said during a session of the standing committee on estimates. “It’s an expensive thing for us.”

FREDERICTON • Diane Robichaud has been waiting nearly two years for her husband Emile to be placed in a nursing home, and she still has no idea how many more months it will take.
Her loved one had a stroke in May of 2015 and is now in a wheelchair and uses a feeding tube to eat.

In an ideal world, he’d have nursing home care and wouldn’t be occupying a bed at the Moncton Hospital.

“It’s frustrating for me and frustrating for him,” Robichaud of Dieppe said in an interview Sunday. “I had no idea what this would be like, from A to Z.”

Robichaud is among hundreds waiting, but the Gallant Liberal government has no set plan in place for reducing the number of frail and elderly patients who should be in a nursing home but are occupying hospital beds.

Lisa Harris, the minister responsible for seniors and long-term care, says her government is working hard to address the demographic time bomb that’s hit New Brunswick worse than any other province.

But under persistent questioning from Green Party leader David Coon in the legislature Friday, she acknowledged that there was a lot of work to do and for the time being there are no targets or timelines to rectify the problem.

“We know there’s a big issue with seniors staying in hospital beds when they don’t need to be there,” Coon said during a session of the standing committee on estimates. “It’s an expensive thing for us.”

Coon referenced Auditor General Kim MacPherson, who wrote in a recent report the province wastes about $40 million a year caring for seniors in hospitals rather than in nursing homes.

They’re also put in acute-care beds meant for patients with emergencies or scheduled surgeries. Doctors can’t discharge them because they’re too medically frail to be sent home but there’s no available room in nursing homes.

The Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Coon’s riding of Fredericton South had to cancel 14 surgeries during the month of January alone due to congestion issues.

An investigation by Brunswick News published this weekend revealed the majority of the province’s hospitals, big and small, were often running overcapacity for the months of November, December and January.

The situation has been exacerbated by New Brunswick’s harsh winter, a time of year when cases of severe flu and slip and falls spike.

Many of the people who fall victim are elderly. At any given time, about one in four hospital beds are taken by older patients who would be better served in a nursing home, the worst rate in Canada.

The province plans on adding 150 nursing home beds this year, a move that should help ease the problem slightly.

But Harris says the government is still working on a new nursing home plan that will replace the old one. It should be publicly released this spring.

Governments across Canada have been reluctant to funnel too much money into the construction of more nursing homes because the demographic bulge caused by baby boomers is a temporary problem, whereas the homes often last much longer than one generation. The fear is too many nursing homes will be built at great cost that will eventually be left half empty.

Harris said her government has formed regional committees that include staff from the two health authorities and the departments of health and social development to do “an intensive review” of those patients waiting in hospital beds.

“In New Brunswick, we have the fastest growing population of seniors and certainly the rest of the country will be looking at what we’re doing here. So we are working hard and collaborating with the Department of Health and being as proactive as possible.”

The minister talked at length about the importance of keeping seniors healthier through a better lifestyle and offering more preventative medicine and home care.

While agreeing these measures were important, Coon was persistent about the government setting targets.

“Do we have concrete goals where we want to see the seniors in hospital beds reduced by such-and-such an amount or some actual targets we can get our arms around? Do those exist?”

The minister had none to offer.

The exchange was largely friendly, and the Green MLA agreed it was a difficult problem to solve.

He said the issue was ripe for collaboration between all three parties in the house.
“No one should be trying to use this as a wedge issue or trying to score points,” he said. “The challenges are only going to get greater and the speed at which we need to address it is going to have to increase.”