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Bed shortage getting worse

Horizon CEO, long-term care facilities working together in bid to solve big problem

ADAM BOWIE THE DAILY GLEANER

As New Brunswick’s hospital bed shortage continues to worsen, Horizon Health Network is working to“re-energize” its relationship with New Brunswick’s long-term care sector, CEO Karen McGrath said on Wednesday.

Newly released figures from Horizon show that in March, about 28 per cent of the health authority’s hospital beds were occupied by patients waiting for placement in a long-term care facility.

That’s a four-per- cent jump from April 2015.

On Tuesday, the Daily Gleaner reported that nursing homes across the province are struggling to recruit and retain qualified employees. While the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes and Horizon aren’t officially linked, McGrath said she’s doing everything possible – including sending tips on how to recruit nurses from Quebec – to help put workers in those nursing home jobs.

Her goals are simple: free up hospital beds, and put patients where they should be.

“Hospitals are not nursing homes,” McGrath said.

“They do not have the range of services a nursing home has. We have busy nurses on acute-care floors that are dealing with a number of patients. So people who require long-term care are not getting the care they need. We know there’s evidence, there’s literature that shows they [deteriorate]. There are significant, negative effects [for the patient].”

McGrath said bed congestion is a problem plaguing hospital administrators across Canada. But because New Brunswick has the oldest per-capita population in the country, and high levels of chronic illness, the problems may be felt here earlier than they are in other jurisdictions, she said.

“I’d love to tell you we have a silver bullet, that there’s a quick fix,”she said.

“It’s a combination of many things. Primary care, which is identifying people’s needs earlier, allows people to bypass the hospital system and go directly to where they need to go for care. That’s one solution. More long-term care beds in particular areas and more long-term care beds of specific types.”

Also crucial to success, she said, is a closer working relationship with the Department of Social Development, the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes and various long-term care facilities across the province.

“We have sort of re-energized our relationship,”McGrath said.

“Social workers have been assigned to provincial hospitals. Part of their job is to actually come to the hospitals, do the assessments of people who require long-term care, and to facilitate that assessment process.”

When The Moncton Hospital was experiencing a bed crunch, Horizon launched a special program to redirect non-urgent cases away from the emergency room to after-hours clinics or other primary-care providers. Also, Horizon transferred some patients from that facility to the Sussex Memorial Hospital, where they could stay until they were placed in a nursing home.

McGrath said the logjams that prevent the easy transfer of patients from the hospital setting to a long-term care facility have a considerable impact on the delivery of services.

“If beds are occupied by people who should be elsewhere, and we’re at capacity in a hospital, then we can’t do particular kinds of surgeries,”she said.

“Realistically, for us in New Brunswick, it’s going to continue to be an issue as we have an aging population with limited options for folks. They’re coming to hospital and they’re staying there because they just don’t have other options.”

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said the challenges in both sectors have made it challenging to recruit and retain registered nurses.

“Sadly, in the long-term care sector, there’s fewer registered nurses now. They don’t have the support to turn to when they do have a client in need, or when they need to bounce an opinion off of [someone].”

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