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Opposition parties decry secrecy, worry for residents as N.B. care homes to close

FREDERICTON — The impending closure of two New Brunswick special care homes announced this week by the province is sparking fears that vulnerable residents will be moved away and face a lonely winter far from their families.
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Robert Gauvin, the Liberal Opposition critic for social development, called on the government to keep 29 residents in their Neguac special care homes until "a good solution" can be found. Gauvin answers questions from the media in Fredericton on September 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/James West

FREDERICTON — The impending closure of two New Brunswick special care homes announced this week by the province is sparking fears that vulnerable residents will be moved away and face a lonely winter far from their families.

Robert Gauvin, the Liberal critic for social development, said on Friday residents of the homes in Neguac, N.B., that had their licences revoked should not be moved until "a good solution" can be found.

"Taking seniors away is not a good situation because people will have to drive maybe 20 minutes or an hour to go see their relatives, which right now, they only have to drive like two minutes," he said.

"The reality of the Acadian Peninsula where those homes are situated — during wintertime — some days it might be very hard to travel."

The Department of Social Development said Tuesday it had revoked the homes' operating licences, leaving the 29 residents and their families scrambling to find new places to live before the facilities are set to close Feb. 17. The residents are seniors and adults with special needs.

A news release from the department said the residents of Villa Neguac and Foyer St. Bernard, as well as their families, were informed of the decision. A process was underway to transfer residents to other homes in the northeastern part of the province where beds are available, it added.

Department spokeswoman Rebecca Howland said confidentiality legislation prevents the government from disclosing details of what led to the licences being revoked. "We are not in a position to elaborate on the nature of the infractions and the investigation that took place," she said. Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard was unavailable for an interview.

Thirteen residents have found new places to live, Howland said.

The last inspections for the homes were done between November and December 2021 and were valid for a year, she said. They were not renewed in 2022 because of an ongoing investigation, she added.

"When an investigation is underway this indicates that there are serious concerns with quality-of-care standards not being met and they have risen to the level that an investigation is required," Howland said. 

"The purpose of an investigation is to confirm or negate the allegations of non-compliance with established standards and practices."

Inspection reports for the 23-bed Foyer St. Bernard and the 30-bed Villa Neguac from 2014 and 2021 are online, but Green Party Leader David Coon said it is hard to get a sense from the reports if there are any major problems in the homes.

"You wouldn't get the sense that they were sort of at risk of having their permits pulled," he said, adding that there is no reason the government cannot be more forthcoming.

"The veil of secrecy is unacceptable," he said.

More transparency on inspections and problems faced by these homes would reassure families and patients, he said. Having detailed reports of what went wrong also puts pressure on the owners to address the problems and bring the quality up to snuff, he added.

"If it was public knowledge that certain services and certain long-term care homes were not meeting the grade, then that would be positive all the way around."

Howland said the government does not take revoking the licence of any long-term care facility lightly. "When the department cannot be assured that operators can abide by provincial standards, there is no choice but to revoke the licence for the safety of the residents."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2023.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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