Wednesday, April 15, 2015

NBU calls for health care summit

Many issues facing New Brunswick stem from its aging population.
Out migration: young families are leaving the province in search of work resulting in the average age of New Brunswickers increasing.
Inequality in health care transfers from the federal government: the model is changing to a per capita basis which will have a negative effect on the province as treating an older population is more costly than one with a younger median age.
Perhaps the biggest issue of all is how to provide proper care to our aging population. In recent weeks, numerous articles have detailed the congestion and overcrowding that is having a negative effect on the Horizon Health Network. Vitalité faces the same challenges. Overcrowding is a result of our aging population.
The numbers are staggering.
An article in The Daily Gleaner states one in every four acute-care beds in the Horizon Health Network is occupied by alternative-level-of-care patients. Those patients are described as having, "become long term residents at a provincial hospital while waiting to be assessed by the Department of Social Development and then to secure a placement at a nursing home, a special-care home or with some kind of specialized home-care system."
This has resulted in hospitals being at or near capacity which can have an impact in numerous ways from cancellation of surgeries and procedures to placing undue stress on staff to hallways lined with people on stretchers, among other issues.
The director of the Miramichi Regional Hospital, Bonnie Matchett, said during the past year it has operated routinely at 105-120 per cent capacity. Currently, about 36 per cent of patients at the Miramichi hospital could be considered alternative-level-of-care patients with two out of three approved for placement in a nursing home, but waiting for a space to open up.
In a separate article, Horizon CEO John McGarry described the congestion levels as reaching a crisis point.
Health Minister Victor Boudreau responded, "There is a lot being done right now. It is a very complex issue, but under the strategic program review, there is a specific project and a specific team assembled on the issue of long-term care."
The goal of the strategic review is to find $600 million through cuts, efficiencies and revenue generation to improve the province's fiscal situation. Given that goal, looking at long-term care through the lens of the strategic review is not the best method. We need to look at the issue in terms of how we can best provide care. The cost - although important - should not be the main focus, but rather one of many factors.
We need to discuss and evaluate ideas such as hiring more staff, repurposing hospitals as special-care or nursing homes as well as improving and expanding the province's community health centre network as the first steps in moving towards a preventative model of health care. These are just some ideas and by no means the definitive answers, but rather important topics that need to be discussed amongst stakeholders and government.
It's for this reason that the New Brunswick Union is advocating for a health summit involving all stakeholders relevant to the discussion of long-term care. We need everyone to be part of this solution. We need to come up with a plan we can all support and we can't start with the principles of the strategic review as a way to achieve it. This must be independent of other initiatives.
The current and previous governments have warned New Brunswickers about the tough decisions that need to be made. It's repeated time and again. The NBU believes the issue of our aging population and long-term care to be the biggest and toughest one facing our province.
We're ready to do our part. Let's sit down together, formulate a plan and move forward as one.