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NWT ‘needs creative fix’ as long-term care bed shortage grows

The Northwest Territories faces a shortage of more than 250 long-term care beds by 2026 unless “creative solutions” are found, according to health minister Glen Abernethy.

Currently, Abernethy says the territory has a shortage of roughly 60 beds for seniors requiring ongoing care. He forecasts that number more than quadrupling to 259 in the next decade and told the legislature there are no simple fixes.

“On average, it costs us about $130,000 a bed to operate a long-term care bed in the Northwest Territories, and on average anywhere from $800,000 to $1.5 million per bed to construct long-term care. We have a significant challenge in front of us,” said Abernethy on Monday.

“The bottom line is we’re going to have to think outside the box on this one.”

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Asked by Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green what the short-term options might be, Abernethy replied: “I don’t necessarily know what all those solutions are at this point.”

Abernethy, who didn’t rule out entering another public-private partnership to address the shortage, added: “The federal government has announced they’re going to invest in social infrastructure. I had an opportunity to meet with the minister responsible and seniors’ housing was one of the issues we raised with them.

“But as I said, we’re looking for pretty much any avenue we can to find a way to meet our needs. We’re going to have to seek partners in every area to help us meet this 259-bed shortage by 2026.”

Abernethy will share a draft review of long-term care in the territory with MLAs in the coming weeks. Caroline Cochrane, the housing minister, has a follow-up meeting with the federal government booked for March 10.

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Tom Beaulieu, the MLA for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, suggested the territory should better support aging in place – allowing seniors to remain in their own homes for longer – as a means to alleviate pressure on beds in care facilities.

“Aging in place, when the NWT Housing Corporation works with the Department of Health and Social Services’ home care program, can defer $125,000 per year per senior. That is the current cost of having one senior in long-term care for one year,” said Beaulieu, quoting a figure similar to Abernethy’s $130,000.

“The government should have programs for the costs of modifying homes to accommodate the changing needs of aging elders, and support should be put in place so they can continue to enjoy a high quality of life in their own homes.”

Cochrane said the territorial government is developing a plan “to support aging in place as long as possible”.

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