The New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) published a potentially game-changing report today calling for the immediate halt to further privatization of nursing homes in the province.
The report, “The Forgotten Generation: An Urgent Call For Reform In New Brunswick’s Long-Term Care Sector,” is based on extensive research into the complex challenges facing seniors and their families attempting to work with nursing homes and the long-term care sector across New Brunswick.
The report’s first page describes New Brunswick’s nursing home system as “in desperate need of reform.” It states: “The seniors who built and contributed to the prosperity of our province deserve the right to live out their final years safely and with dignity. However, many homes are suffering from an erosion of regulated care professionals, inadequate funding, and a lack of oversight by Government, which has led to a continued decline in care.”
The report describes how the level of care provided in New Brunswick nursing homes has fallen to unsafe levels as a direct result of a staffing crisis. Nearly half of New Brunswick nursing homes are failing to meet their minimum safe staffing ratios in 2019.
The reliance on casual staffing in many New Brunswick nursing homes has risen to unacceptably high levels. Nearly one-third of all RNs in New Brunswick’s long-term care sector left their positions in 2017.
The report found that “for-profit long-term care homes provide significantly less care to residents and produce substantially worse outcomes.” The NBNU’s recommendations include halting further privatization in the nursing home sector.
According to the NBNU’s analysis, other research has shown that “for-profit nursing homes are less effective than their nonprofit counterparts in virtually every significant category – including value-for-money.”
When Premier Shawn Graham’s Liberal government signed the first contract with the private-sector Shannex nursing home in 2008, the government’s position was that “the number of seniors waiting for long-term care beds had reached a crisis point, and that urgent action was needed.”
Introducing the profit motive into the province’s long-term care sector changed the incentives behind resident care. But over the next 12 years, the problems privatization was supposed to address continued to worsen. In particular, available nursing home beds are unable to match the demand for the number of seniors requiring these long-term care services.
Since the 2008 privatization of nursing homes began, numerous reports have questioned government decisions to continue adding more privately-operated nursing homes to the long-term care system. These past reports are reviewed and referenced throughout this latest report by NBNU’s researchers.
In most cases the reports contained numerous recommendations, mostly ignored by successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments. Decisions made by government officials have resulted in additional private nursing homes being built and managed by corporate entities with their operational costs being billed to the provincial government.
Deborah van den Hoonaard, Professor Emerita, St. Thomas University states in the report foreword that the province has over many years “chosen to see long-term care as an expense that should be minimized.”
New Brunswick has been lowering hours of care and the ratio of regulated staff over a number of years, resulting in poor care and staffing shortages. These decisions have been compounded by relying on casual and part-time work and low pay.
In April this year Joan McFarland, a recently-retired professor of economics at St. Thomas University, presented her research on the privatization of nursing homes in New Brunswick in a webinar, “Care in the time of corona: the neoliberal care home” (April, 2020). McFarland discussed the impact of privatization on seniors “who are too easily scapegoated as the cause of the province’s fiscal problems.”
In a 2019 article, McFarland argues that New Brunswick’s “aging population is an excuse for a neoliberal agenda” being imposed across the province to privatize nursing homes and long-term care services. Similar arguments were used by successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments when they privatized extra-mural healthcare services with Medavie.
The NBNU is now calling for an inquiry into long-term care in New Brunswick as a result of the report’s findings. The nurses’ union is hoping New Brunswickers will “ask the hard questions on behalf of vulnerable seniors who cannot speak-up for themselves.”
These questions include why the governance, oversight, accountability and transparency in New Brunswick’s long-term care sector have become so weak and ineffective that the sector is “akin to being self-regulated.”
The nurses’ union promises it will deliver a report card on the report’s recommendations by the fall of 2023. They hope government officials will view their report as a comprehensive set of recommendations that must be acted upon to immediately begin addressing the challenges facing our nursing homes and our long-term care health system.
“The Forgotten Generation” report explains how nursing homes and long-term care system has reached its current state of crisis.
As its subtitle describes, this report is an Urgent Call for Reform that demands immediate attention by all New Brunswickers and the government.
“Jeff Hull, the report’s principal author and the New Brunswick Nurses Union, are to be congratulated for producing such a comprehensive and valuable working document that puts elders first and supports a needed healthcare system that will serve every citizen with dignity and respect,” says Tracy Glynn, author of the NB Health Coalition’s 2017 report, “The Creeping Privatization of Health Care in New Brunswick.”
Brian Beaton is a writer and the calendar coordinator for the NB Media Co-op.