With personal care home beds in short supply, the Pallister government has instituted a funding cap that could make it all but impossible for new nursing home projects to get off the ground.

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This article was published 11/2/2017 (1710 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With personal care home beds in short supply, the Pallister government has instituted a funding cap that could make it all but impossible for new nursing home projects to get off the ground.

The Progressive Conservatives announced this week they had cancelled plans for a $32-million, 80-bed personal care home in Lac du Bonnet, citing excessive costs and the $1-billion provincial deficit.

Two large care home projects in Winnipeg may be at risk because of the government’s funding stance. Both have completed their design phases.

Proponents of the Lac du Bonnet project say they had spent nearly $2.5 million on the design, and it was set to go for tender. A sod-turning ceremony was held in 2013 with then-premier Greg Selinger in attendance. The community had raised $3.2 million.

Cindy Kellendonk, a councillor with the RM of Lac du Bonnet, said local officials got the bad news a few months ago when they met with Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen at a municipal convention in Winnipeg.

Kellendonk said it was a bitter pill for the community to swallow. She said the emotions ranged from shock and disappointment to "overwhelming frustration" and anger.

"People are devastated," she said. "This was going to alleviate the tremendous burden on our regional hospital where almost 60 per cent of the acute-care beds are being occupied by seniors waiting to be placed in a personal care home."

Adding to the community’s frustration is they have no control over construction costs. The project underwent a comprehensive planning process to ensure the proposed care home met provincial design standards.

"The cost per bed within those provincial guidelines are $360,000 per bed," Kellendonk said. But the community was told the new government would only approve funding for $133,000 per bed.

In an interview this week, Goertzen said the Progressive Conservatives were up front during the election campaign on the amount they would be willing to contribute to nursing home construction.

"The election campaign commitment was for 1,200 beds over eight years at $160 million — (that) is $133,000 per bed," he said. "We were transparent during the election. We didn’t hide what the numbers were. The numbers were put out there."

While public attention focused on the number of beds promised, the per-bed target cost "seemed to get lost," the minister said.

Goertzen said he is challenging sponsors of personal care homes to come up with creative ways of living within the government’s funding cap. That could mean greater community contributions or different construction models, he said.

"I can tell you a lot of communities have said, ‘That’s impossible, Mr. Minister.’ And now some of them are coming back and saying, ‘Well, you know, we’ve got some ideas and we’re pretty close (to meeting the government’s target).’"

A study four years ago by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy determined the province would need as many as 6,300 additional personal care home or supportive housing beds in the next few decades. It predicted the big crunch in demand would begin to hit as early as 2021. But health officials are saying a shortage of nursing home beds is already placing a strain on hospitals.

Two new large Winnipeg PCH construction projects approved by the former government are now under a cloud. One is a proposed 120-bed care home in Transcona by Park Manor Personal Care. The other is a similar-sized facility planned by Winnipeg Mennonite Seniors Care Inc. in Bridgwater.

Asked about their status, a spokeswoman for Goertzen said Friday Bridgwater and Park Manor "are not formally cancelled," but the province is working with the sponsoring groups to "change the scope of the projects" to fit its mandate. The original total cost of the two projects was estimated at between $120 million and $135 million, she said in an email.

Officials with Park Manor could not be reached for comment.

John Thiessen, executive director of Winnipeg Mennonite Seniors Care, said as far as he knows, his project is moving forward.

"There’s been no communication that it’s not going ahead," he said late Friday.

While his group and the province have discussed project costs — and the $133,000 funding cap has been bandied about — there has been nothing to suggest so far the government views it as a "realistic number," Thiessen said.

"You’re not going to build a PCH for $133,000 per bed," he said.

NDP health critic Matt Wiebe called the government’s funding stance "a total deception."

"It’s a broken promise," he said. "The fact is people expected 1,200 beds to be built. They didn’t know how much each bed cost, but what they knew was that 1,200 beds were going to be built."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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