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Time for Tories to deliver on care-home pledge

More than six years ago, then-Progressive Conservative Party leader Brian Pallister stood outside a personal-care home in Transcona and vowed to open 1,200 new nursing-home beds over eight years. The $160-million pledge was one of the Tories’ key campaign promises during the 2016 provincial election.

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Opinion

More than six years ago, then-Progressive Conservative Party leader Brian Pallister stood outside a personal-care home in Transcona and vowed to open 1,200 new nursing-home beds over eight years. The $160-million pledge was one of the Tories’ key campaign promises during the 2016 provincial election.

It was urgent, Mr. Pallister argued at the time, to significantly expand the province’s long-term care capacity, especially after the number of nursing-home beds in Winnipeg had been frozen for several years under the previous NDP government.

“We have an aging population, so we expect the demand to increase over that time and that’s why this is so urgent,” said Mr. Pallister, who vowed to provide Manitoba seniors with the care they deserved. “We want to get at it quickly because the need is there now.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Former Premier Brian Pallister had vowed to provide Manitoba seniors with the care they deserved.

Fast forward to 2022, and not only have the Tories failed to make good on that election pledge, but in fact the number of personal-care home beds across the province has declined. In 2016, there were 9,698 personal-care home beds in Manitoba. As of September, that number had dropped to 9,549, a figure highlighted last week by the Opposition NDP.

The Tories claim they have opened 506 new-personal care home beds since taking office in 2016. That may be, but it is not a net increase. While new beds were opened, others were decommissioned, including 260 beds at Parkview Place Care Centre (after its owner, Revera, failed to renovate the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet current standards).

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority estimated in 2018 that Winnipeg alone would require a net increase of 200 personal-care home beds per year just to keep up with the demands of an aging population. That estimate did not account for the many years in which no new nursing-home beds were added to the system.

It comes as no surprise that today, there are long waiting lists for seniors trying to find safe and suitable living arrangements. Many are suffering and are being deprived of appropriate care.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority estimated in 2018 that Winnipeg alone would require a net increase of 200 personal-care home beds per year just to keep up with the demands of an aging population.

The lack of nursing-home capacity is also contributing to hospital overcrowding. Seniors waiting for personal-care home beds are often forced to spend weeks or months in hospital because they have nowhere else to go. This contributes to gridlock on medical wards and in emergency departments, where newly admitted patients often languish for days in hallways or in exam rooms because there are no in-patient beds available for them.

Last Friday, there were 46 patients in Winnipeg hospitals who were either waiting for a personal-care home placement or were in the process of being panelled for one.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said her government is “intent” on ensuring Manitoba seniors get the care they need, including timely placement in long-term care homes. But those are just words. Without a concrete plan, Ms. Gordon’s pledge is as empty as the one made by Mr. Pallister in 2016.

Government should make it a priority to properly assess the demand for long-term care beds and to significantly increase capacity across the province, and should publicly release a detailed plan with cost estimates and timelines.

The Stefanson government has much to prove to Manitobans before next fall’s scheduled election. Showing tangible progress on personal-care homes between now and then would go a long way toward convincing voters the incumbent government deserves to remain in office.

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