HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's continuing and long-term care sector is getting $57 million in funding over two years — a move Premier Tim Houston says is meant to start "moving the needle" on chronic staffing and bed shortages.
Houston announced the new "short-term" money Wednesday, saying it will go immediately toward hiring more continuing care assistants (CCAs), improving working conditions, improving care for seniors and making about 100 more beds available across the system.
The spending will help the government meet its previous commitment to hire 1,400 additional CCAs over the next three years, officials said. The 100 added beds will be on top of 2,500 new long-term care rooms the government promised by 2024.
"We can add all the beds we want, but it helps no one if we don't have qualified, dedicated staff to care for the residents, so that's the priority," Houston said.
To that end, Houston said the government's largest investment will see $22 million over two years to cover the entire tuition costs for over 2,000 students in continuing care assistant programs.
Another $8 million will be used to provide long-term care homes with funding to offer their casual and part-time employees full-time positions or to hire more staff to provide direct care.
Houston said $3.1 million in tuition rebates would also be made available for current continuing care assistant students, while $2.1 million has been allotted to recruit CCAs nationally and internationally.
Officials said the government currently funds about 6,600 positions across the province, while a total of 12,000 CCAs have graduated from training institutions since 2000.
However, they said they don't have an accurate reading on how many professionals are currently working in the system or how many positions need to be filled, although they estimated position shortages are likely in the hundreds. Officials said they will have a better idea once a promised professional registry is up and running.
The government also said it has created a new "work and learn" curriculum that will be made available to the province's 11 community colleges and to five private business colleges. It will allow students to study three days a week and work two days.
Cape Breton's CCBC Career College is already offering the program, said president and CEO Henry Devlin.
"In the last 25 years, we have focused quite heavily on CCA education and trying to make an impact for that sector," Devlin said at the news conference. "The need for front-line workers is critical ... we know that we are going to produce hundreds of graduates over the next several months and that's going to help."
Still, Houston agreed that another looming problem is pay for CCAs. The premier said the government is willing to work with unions to address wages that he believes are too low.
"This is important work that's being done to improve the quality of life for Nova Scotians, and they should be compensated accordingly," he said. "Wages are part of the equation."
Meanwhile, Houston said $6.1 million would be used to convert and license beds in residential care facilities and assisted living facilities to nursing home level care, while $5.9 million will go to license and fund 30 Veterans Affairs Canada beds for people who need them.
Barbara Adams, minister of seniors and long-term care, said the investments will help seniors get more immediate help while alleviating pressures in other areas of the health system.
"It will free up much-needed hospital beds, allowing more Nova Scotians to access in-hospital, life-saving acute care," Adams said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press