03/15/2012 01:12 EDT | Updated 05/15/2012 05:12 EDT

New Brunswick to spend $329 million to boost nursing home capacity

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick will spend $329 million to create more nursing home spaces following a review that concluded the highest demand for long-term care over the next decade will be in the province's three largest cities.

The Conservative government's five-year plan will result in 354 more nursing home beds — 57 more than a 2009 plan by the previous Liberal government, Social Development Minister Sue Stultz said Thursday.

Stultz said the government's plan will also cost $110 million less.

"It became clear (the Liberal) plan was beyond our means, especially in the current fiscal climate," Stultz said.

The plan also involves the construction of new nursing homes and renovations to existing ones that affect 859 nursing home beds.

Stultz said the government will find savings by repairing some homes rather than replacing them, and by using a common design for new homes.

She said the province's Infrastructure Department would take over the management of nursing home design and construction.

"This will reduce overall costs for projects previously managed by individual nursing home boards," she said.

Opposition Liberal Leader Victor Boudreau said the government is cutting corners on the backs of seniors.

"They're building them cheaper and they're trying to lower the standards," Boudreau said.

"There may be a short-term gain there, but that means that nursing homes are going to need to be replaced sooner and cost more to heat. It is not the smart way to go."

The government has cancelled new nursing homes in Dalhousie and Miramichi, opting instead to repair existing homes. Boudreau accused the government of playing politics because both homes are in Liberal ridings.

The government's announcement comes after a demographic analysis found that the demand for long-term care services is greatest in the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton areas. It also said there is an overall growing need for services for seniors with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The government also said 704 specialized care beds will be created by the private sector for people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Stultz said the specialized homes will provide more appropriate care and be a cheaper alternative to nursing homes.

Michael Keating, executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing homes, said he's generally pleased with the plan. But he said some communities where previously announced new nursing homes have been scrapped will be disappointed.

The provincial government does not own nursing homes but funds 80 per cent of their operations, totalling more than $288 million annually.