03/03/2014 03:34 EST | Updated 05/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Health regions forced to scale back demands for seniors homes: Saskatchewan NDP

REGINA - The Opposition NDP is accusing the Saskatchewan government of forcing health regions to scale back requests for what they need for seniors care homes.

Health regions asked for such things as lifts, bathtubs and nurse call systems after the province set up a $10-million fund last fall to deal with urgent problems at long-term care homes.

The NDP says health regions were told to lower their demands.

"There is a ranking that needs to take place within the important things," NDP Leader Cam Broten said Monday, after raising the issue on the first day of the spring sitting at the legislature.

"But in looking at most of the requests, it came down to staff, it came down to bathtubs, it came to having appropriate lifts. So that's where the dollars should have been focused and most regions were pretty clear on that."

For example, documents provided by the NDP show that the Five Hills Health Region asked for nine new nurse call systems at a cost of about $1.1 million. The region said in its request that most of its facilities have old nurse call systems.

"All of these systems are beyond useful life and many are having problems," it said. But the documents show the request was dropped in a revised proposal.

The Saskatoon Health Region also initially asked for 100 lifts, saying "current lift inventory is not meeting demands for direct resident care or safety." Its revised request was for 56 lifts — cutting the money needed from $1,000,000 to $560,000.

Saskatoon also said long-term care homes are "experiencing critical shortages" of continuing care aide staff. It said it will need 450 continuing care aides. Its initial ask was for 38 more aides; the revised number was 19.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan says health regions knew the fund was limited when it was created in October. It had to be shared, he said.

"We asked for the regions to then determine where they would allocate dollars. Then we had to go back to the regions ... because the $10 million would have been spent essentially by ... one health region," said Duncan.

The fund was created after a review of long-term care in Saskatchewan raised concerns that patients are not getting enough baths and residents are soiling themselves because there isn't enough staff to help them get to the toilet. The findings were based on tours of long-term care facilities by CEOs in each health region.

Duncan says the $10 million has meant improvements. He says there will be hundreds more lifts in long-term care facilities that weren't in place six months ago.