The fight to retain health services for rural New Brunswickers isn’t anywhere near done. Last week the government and the CEOs of the two administrative bodies, Horizon Health and Vitalité, announced a health care reform plan that essentially gutted services to rural New Brunswick.
The first steps included eliminating acute care beds in favour of chronic care beds for senior citizens awaiting admission to nursing homes and closing Emergency Room services during the overnight hours, in six hospitals across the Province that serve thousands of residents. Residents saw the writing on the wall. This was the thin edge of the wedge that would eventually lead to the closure of lab and Xray services and ultimately the hospitals completely.
People were incensed and rallies were held in each location in opposition to the proposed changes. Fears for the safety of citizens in emergency situations were expressed. Fears for ill individuals requiring hospitalization were expressed. At no point were these addressed nor was any plan given for the effective implementation of change – other than to deliver termination notices to nurses, LPNS, PSWs and EVS workers in each location. In moments lives were upended as the individuals and their families tried to assimilate the information and figure out what to do next.
Town councils were reeling. What would become of their citizens? Would all of these health care professionals move away to larger centres where they could find employment? What would happen to real estate values? Who would want to move to these towns and their environs if health care and emergency services weren’t readily available? The questions went on. The answers from the CEOs did not.
One brave caucus member, The very Honourable Robert Gauvin (MLA for Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou AND Deputy Premier under Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs) stepped down from the Deputy Premier’s position and rejected his party, opting to serve as an Independent member.
One other MLA, Bruce Northrup from Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins, expressed ‘concern’ about supporting the measures, but failed to take any further steps that would jeopardize his political career completely . Some of his constituents saw this as positive. I saw it as a way to appease his party while also maintaining his image in the community. His lack of strong conviction was disappointing.
As a result of this (apparently unexpected) public outcry from the citizens, PLUS the threat of a non-confidence motion in the Legislature that would have resulted in an immediate election call, the Premier of the Province put a ‘hold’ on the implementation of the plan. Despite his previously strong statements that he supported the plan and the CEOs of the health authorities, he capitulated to political pressure and backed down.
The people were not fooled
Planned protest rallies continued and on Monday, February 17th, the mid-winter Family Day holiday, people from rural communities around the Province converged on the six affected local hospitals in support of the doctors, nurses, staff and continuing health care and emergency services.
Politicians showed up too. Mr. Gauvin was in Sussex and his words, “Put people before politics” resonated with the cheering crowd.
Doctor after doctor spoke up. They cited true figures that showed the reality of life in both the ERs and acute care wards of their hospitals. They clearly explained the medical outcomes that people could expect if these proposed changes went through as outlined. Nurses and staff whose lives and families had been disrupted showed up too, the strain visible on every face.
No real plans
Despite the fanfare, the CEOs of the hospital authorities failed to communicate an concrete plans for implementation other than dismissing staff. The questions raised far outnumbered the questions answered (none). For example, what would be done in the major hospitals to accommodate the increased numbers of people seeking services? Wait times would increase for all – counter to what the health authority said was among its goals.
Comments on social media from people living in the cities were less than supportive. They intimated that rural residents were just whining. They all live within minutes of health care facilities – not hours away over less than reliable road that are sometimes closed in winter. Their very lives are not being threatened.
We know change is needed
No thinking person would suggest that the status quo is ok. It isn’t. However, the “powers that be” have known for eons that the baby boomer bubble was aging. That population would need more health care services, more long term care facilities. But was anything done to prepare for it? No. Instead, the ostriches in power buried their heads in the sand and ignored it until now when it has become a delivery and financial crisis.
What else can we do? How about amalgamating the two distinct language health care authorities into one bilingual one? Do we really need TWO overpaid CEOs? How about one reasonably paid one? And do we need two full boards of directors – also well paid individuals? No. One board should do the job and we can still provide services in either or both languages as required.
Placards at the rallies nailed it.
And while we’re on the subject, perhaps our elected representatives should consider freezing their own salary levels – indefinitely or permanently. It is OUR money and they work FOR US. We need to remind them of that fact. Then, those additional funds could be used to support the health care system, provide bursaries for health care students on condition that they guarantee to work in NB for a specified period of time, hire more nurses and other workers on a full-time basis (with benefits) rather than filling the roster with part-timers. Where’s the incentive to come here as a nurse or other medical professional?
As a Province let’s stop wasting money. Grants and forgivable loans to businesses have failed as incentives to increase employment and business in the province. STOP WASTING MONEY. Find other ways to encourage businesses to thrive here. Better tax rates for small businesses. And insist that ALL businesses, including the myriad Irving corporations, pay their fair share of taxes here! No more freebies. Failure to do so and we should just rename the province “Irving” and be done with it. Has that corporation done good things and provided a great deal of employment for people in NB? Absolutely yes. But there have been downsides too – and this is not my debate right now.
In Sussex (and I presume elsewhere), a committee is being formed to formulate recommendations for the improvement and financing of health care. Steps are being taken. Hopefully concrete recommendations will be put forth and this health care reform plan will be scrapped completely, instead of just postponed.