03/20/2014 05:31 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT

NDP, Saskatchewan government squabble over health funding in budget

REGINA - The Opposition says the Saskatchewan budget doesn't have any new money for long-term care, but Health Minister Dustin Duncan says seniors haven't been forgotten.

New Democrat Danielle Chartier said in the legislature Thursday that facilities put forward hundreds of requests after the province set up a $10 million fund last fall to deal with urgent problems at long-term care homes.

But Chartier says there's no help in the budget tabled Wednesday for requests that were turned down.

"A few months ago, this government received 250 pages of urgent requests from seniors care facilities for desperately needed staff, equipment and repairs. But at that time, this government actually said no to $8.5 million of those urgent requests. The health minister said there would be more money to come in the budget," Chartier said Thursday.

"But the budget contained no new dollars to address the seniors care crisis or to meet the $8.5 million of urgent requests that were previously rejected by this government. To the minister, why not?"

Duncan said the budget includes nearly $3.8 million for long-term care that was not on the books last year.

The minister acknowledged after question period that the $3.8 million was announced last fall when the province set up the $10-million fund to deal with urgent problems at long-term care homes. But he says it will now flow each year.

The minister also says regional health authorities are getting $15.3 million for equipment and some of that will be for long term care facilities.

"So that equates to about $3.3 million that we're saying to health regions (use) in equipment, because you have identified through (the) urgent issue action fund that equipment is a concern. We want to see these dollars being earmarked for long term care equipment," said Duncan.

The $10 million 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 acknowledged earlier this month that health regions had to scale back their requests because the fund was limited. It had to be shared, he said.

The health minister also noted Thursday that seniors in long-term care represent about eight per cent of the overall senior population in Saskatchewan.

"There are initiatives in the budget, some new dollars in the budget, that don't go directly to long-term care, but do go directly to improving seniors care across the province," he said.

The budget includes $4.5 million — up $2.5 compared to last year — for programs that help keeps seniors in their own homes longer and $800,000 to develop a seniors house call program for seniors with complex needs.