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The Nova Scotia government is taking steps to address staff shortages at the province’s long-term care homes after an expert panel determined the “overstressed” system was facing a crisis.

Under a new set of rules, nursing homes will be able to hire retired or internationally educated nurses who have met specific criteria to work as continuing-care assistants.

The province is also creating temporary positions for long-term care assistants, who will help with day-to-day activities, freeing up time for continuing-care assistants to focus on personal care.

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The changes are based on recommendations submitted by the panel in January.

At the time, after speaking to 375 people in the system, the panel made it clear the province’s nursing homes were understaffed.

“We heard over and over from residents and their families that staff do not have the time to provide appropriate care because they are ‘working short,“’ the authors of the report concluded.

“Shortages increase staff responsibilities, with more residents to provide care for, resulting in overstressed staff, high rates of injury and sickness, and many unfilled vacancies across the system.”

The panel called for at least one licensed practical nurse per residential care facility, but it stopped short of setting standards for staffing levels or minimum time limits for care because it couldn’t get the information it needed. At the time, the province didn’t even know how many job vacancies there were.

Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey appointed the panel last September after media reports about patients with severe bedsores raised questions about the quality of care in the facilities. A 40-year-old woman in long-term care in Halifax died from a large, infected bedsore in March 2018.

Panel member Janice Keefe said she and her colleagues were pleased with the government’s progress.

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So far this year, the province says it has helped 88 continuing-care assistants move through the province’s immigration program, and committed $5-million to act on the panel’s recommendations.

As well, the government says 132 new nursing homes beds are being added across Nova Scotia – in Meteghan, New Waterford, North Sydney and Eskasoni.

“Over the past several months we have been working with members of the panel to achieve the intent of their recommendations and have made significant progress,” Delorey said in a statement.

“We believe this work will better support the homes and staff, in providing the best care possible for residents.”

The panel submitted 22 recommendations. The province’s Liberal government says five of them have been implemented, 15 are being processed and two are being assessed. The province has 6,900 nursing home beds and 900 residential care beds.

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