FREDERICTON (GNB) – The Department of Social Development has begun work on a long-term care plan to respond to the needs of the province’s aging population.

“Our current provincial long-term care system is stretched to its capacity, and critical challenges are on the way as the average age of the population continues to climb and the landscape of the province is changing through COVID and the continued increase in migration to the province,” said Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch.

The department oversees the provincial portfolio of nursing homes, adult residential facilities and home support for seniors and people with disabilities. These programs and facilities provide services to about 22,000 New Brunswickers with a provincial budget of over $860 million annually.

The new long-term care plan will outline ways to provide the support and services needed to keep seniors living as independently as possible, a concept embodied by the government’s health-care plan, Stabilizing Health Care: An Urgent Call to Action.

“Historically, the care for seniors in New Brunswick has been mainly focused on improving the quality and capacity of nursing homes, through continuous increases of investment, development of nursing home plans and operating under outdated legislation,” said Fitch.  “We need a sustainable system that is not focused only on facility-based care but also leverages community and home-care services to support seniors in being independent as long as possible. Investments should be made at the front end, rather than in a more reactive fashion.”

The plan is intended to focus on the full continuum of care, providing appropriate support based on a person’s needs. The aim will be to make services more accessible and create awareness of how people can receive them. It will include actionable measures, timelines and performance targets related to the transition of care for seniors. The plan should be completed and ready for implementation by early next year.

Development of the plan will be guided by an executive advisory committee consisting of senior staff from the departments of Social Development and Health, and from regional health authorities.

A key element of the plan’s development will be stakeholder engagement, which will take place during the coming months. In addition to several government departments, it will involve service delivery partners, advocacy groups, municipal leaders and employees of the long-term care sector.

“However, the most important voices of all will be the seniors and their families,” said Fitch. “It is very important to the department that this plan include the voices of lived experience since aging affects us all.”

“There are multiple jurisdictions implementing integrated long-term care systems that demonstrate improved care outcomes for seniors,” he said. “It is now time for New Brunswick to take a more integrated approach in a strong continuum of care which could deliver sustainable, good-quality services for seniors over the long term. This new plan will be an important reform for the future of our province.”