Provincial Health Minister Benoit Bourque and Medavie CEO Bernard Lord fielded about two dozen angry questions and comments Tuesday evening during a public meeting in Moncton that lasted more than two hours.
Doctors, a nurses’ representative, members of Acadian groups, advocates for the elderly and just plain folks expressed their anger over the decision to privatize the management of New Brunswick’s extramural, home care services.
“You’re not listening to us, your decision has already been made,” said Bernadette Landry. “Why are we better served by a private company? I’m not going to vote Liberal next time around.”
Integration and efficiency
Earlier in the meeting, Bourque and Lord argued that integrating the management of extramural home care with the 811 health advice phone line and the paramedic services of Ambulance New Brunswick would lead to better co-ordination, greater efficiencies and improvements in all three.
For example, Lord said that after Medavie takes over management on January 1st, it aims to reduce the current three-day wait for the first extramural visit after referral to a couple of days and eventually to a single day.
“We believe that we can increase, with the same budget that we have, about 15 per cent more visits at home,” Lord said. “And we also believe we can reduce the number of visits to the emergency departments by this group of patients by about 15 per cent.”
But few of the 70 people who attended the meeting seemed convinced by such arguments.
During the question and answer period, speaker after speaker argued against replacing democratically elected regional health authorities with a private company. Some pointed to complaints about slow service from Ambulance New Brunswick, an organization that Medavie has run since 2007.
He added that nobody had ever called him to ask how satisfied he was with the service, a reference to Lord’s earlier claim that people are highly satisfied with Ambulance New Brunswick.
“Unfortuntely, you don’t seem to have convinced anyone here,” Thibault said to Lord and Bourque.
“I’m just trying to answer questions as best I can,” the beleaguered health minister replied.
Sackville extramural unit
It became clear during the meeting that it will take time for Medavie to review the services before implementing its specific management plans.
For example, when asked if he could say whether the Tantramar extramural unit would remain in Sackville rather than being moved to Moncton in the name of efficiency, Bernard Lord said he did not yet have a detailed answer.
He added, however, that the objective is to maintain and enhance the level of service and part of that will involve having staff close to where people live making it easier to deliver services.
“The idea here is not to centralize everything in Moncton, Saint John or Fredericton,” Lord said. “The idea is to better integrate the different services…but we also recognize a lot of these services is provided in rural areas in New Brunswick and it has to remain in rural areas.”
Lord then called on John Ferguson, a vice-president at Medavie who said that while he was aware there are people in Sackville concerned about the possible closure of the extramural unit, he knew of “nothing suggesting there would be any changes in that area.”
To read a transcript of my question about the Sackville extramural unit with Lord’s and Ferguson’s answers, click here.
After the meeting, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights said she hadn’t learned anything new.
“Actually, I’m just appalled that they’re not listening to the people,” Cecile Cassista told reporters.
“There’s no room in this province to privatize health care,” she added. “I think they’re just manipulating and playing with words. That’s exactly what they’re doing. We know that Ambulance New Brunswick is not working and what they’re going to do now is destroy our extramural program.”
As reported previously, Cassista will give a presentation on the changes to the extramural program at 2 p.m. this Saturday in the Middle Sackville Baptist Church.