The danger to locally-based not-for-profit nursing homes in New Brunswick remains real despite the fact that after 14 years and as many contracts to the Shannex Corporation, two recent nursing home contracts were awarded to others.
In the first of two NB Media Co-op articles published in 2021, I pointed out the alarming trend of the increase in for-profit corporate ownership in funded long-term care in New Brunswick. When two more contracts had been awarded to Shannex, the corporation which had been awarded all of the 12 nursing home contracts since 2008 in New Brunswick, I wondered in the second article: “Is the future of our not-for-profit nursing homes under threat?”
However, in 2022, two nursing home contracts were awarded to non-Shannex nursing homes. How did this happen? What does it mean for the future of the nursing home sector in the province?
Since 2008, the corporatization of nursing homes has occurred because of the government’s adoption of the public-private partnership (P3) model. In addition to that factor, the adoption of competitive bidding through a Request for Qualifications/Request for Proposals (RFQ/RFP) model, has been in place since 2015.
In June and September 2022 respectively, the two non-Shannex contracts, the first since 2008, were awarded. Details about these contracts were accessed through a right-to-information request that I made for the two contracts and press releases from the New Brunswick Department of Social Development.
The new nursing homes seem to be a possible exception to the threat posed to local, not-for-profit nursing homes by the for-profit corporatization of nursing homes in the province. It seems that, in these cases, rather than a corporation ‘from away’ coming into the community to get the contract, local players stepped up.
The first contract is for a new $70 million 170-bed nursing home in Shediac signed by Ronald LeBlanc, CEO of the new nursing home to be named Maison Providence Ltd. It is to be developed and operated by Comfort Life Network. Among other conditions, the new nursing home had to come up with a $3.8-million dollar down payment to get the Shediac contract.
Obtaining the contract was not easy. The Comfort Life Network team had bid on every contract which had been tendered since 2016 but had lost out every time to Shannex. Up until 2022, Shannex had been awarded 14 nursing home contracts in a row.
On its website, Shediac-based Comfort Life Network, which has been around for 50 years, describes itself as “the largest non-profit long-term care service provider in the province of New Brunswick with 16 corporations including 406 long-term care beds, over 400 affordable apartments, a 40-unit facility offering affordable and accessible apartments with onsite attendant services.” The long-term care beds are in four nursing homes: Villa Providence (Shediac), Villa du Repos (Moncton), Le Complexe Rendez-vous (Neguac) and the recently joined Network member, Foyer Saint-Antoine (Saint-Antoine).
Further, Comfort Life Network describes itself as an important player: “With an equity of $156 million, we were able to respond to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the new nursing home in Shediac. In the province, we are the only ones who are positioned with the necessary tools to meet government criteria for new construction; we have the team and expertise already in place.”
The nursing homes already in the Comfort Life Network are registered as not-for-profit charities and have voluntary boards of directors. Both of these aspects will be the case with the new Maison Providence as well, according to Comfort Life Network CEO Ronald LeBlanc in an interview I did with him on October 26, 2023.
The new nursing home intends to keep its local community-based character. The fact that all of the Comfort Life Network nursing homes have signed up for the Nursing Homes without Walls program would seem to attest to this. Nursing Homes without Walls is an aging in place program recently adopted in New Brunswick, where nursing homes can sign up to offer services to seniors to enable them to stay in their own homes.
The second contract is for a new $29.7-million 60-bed nursing home on the Acadian Peninsula to be named Villa Saint-Isidore. It is to be operated by La Villa St. Joseph Ltee/Villa Saint-Isidore Nursing Home Partnership and will be built and leased from a partnership of local investors.
Like Maison Providence Ltd in Shediac, Villa Saint-Isidore may also be somewhat of an exception. It is not registered as a not-for-profit charity but may keep its locally-based community character.
Ronald Losier, the president of St.-Isidore Asphalte Ltee, a paving contracting company, is named as a representative of the investors in the press release. His father, local well-known businessman and company founder Richard Losier, donated the land for the new nursing home before his death in 2020. The contract is signed by Oscar Roussel, the Chair of the Board of La Villa St. Joseph, a 74-bed nursing home in Tracadie-Sheila in the same region.
In traditional nursing homes contracts before 2008, local communities didn’t have to come up with any financing at all. Loans for the construction of the nursing home were backed by the government. Currently, the key to getting both these of recent contracts was the local financial backing detailed above.
Despite these two exceptions, the threat to other community-based nursing homes remains more real than ever.
It is business as usual for Shannex, the Nova Scotia-based company that, in November 2023, was awarded another contract for a 60-bed nursing home in Moncton on a site with two other recently awarded Shannex nursing homes. This is Shannex’s fifteenth contract in New Brunswick since 2008.
In the press release announcing Shannex’s most recent contract, Kathy Bockus, the Minister responsible for Seniors, describes the company as “one of the many valuable partners of the Department of Social Development” and offers thanks with the words, “we sincerely appreciate their dedication to New Brunswick seniors.”
Meanwhile, traditional locally-based not-for-profit nursing homes struggle for survival and to meet the requirements of the new model. For example, Pine Grove Manor in Fredericton was promised much needed renovations in 2018 by the Gallant government. These never materialized and now Pine Grove finds itself in a position where renovations or a new building would require taking part in an open bidding process.
A local nursing home could never win in a competitive bidding process without substantial financial backing like the two recent contracts were able to secure. Unfortunately, this would be the case for almost all of the remaining traditional locally-based not-for-profit nursing homes in New Brunswick.
Because of the new system, it looks like they are just going to be allowed to gradually die out.
Joan McFarland is a Fredericton-based researcher on long-term care and a retired economics professor from St. Thomas University.