An advocate for elderly New Brunswickers warned provincial Liberals today that if they don’t want to be defeated at the next election, they’d better start listening to people speaking out against changes to the extramural home care program.
Hector Cormier, past president of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, made his comment during a meeting at the Middle Sackville Baptist Church also attended by the local Liberal MLA Bernard LeBlanc and the provincial minister responsible for seniors and long-term care, Lisa Harris.
To sustained applause from about 80 people in the church gymnasium, Cormier pointed to overwhelming opposition at recent public meetings, including one this week in Moncton, to the government’s plan to contract out management of the home care program to Medavie, a private health-care company headed by former premier Bernard Lord.
“Are we all wrong?” Cormier asked as he pointed to an editorial in the French-language newspaper L’Acadie Nouvelle arguing the Gallant government has misjudged public opinion on its plan to consolidate management of extramural home care with the 811 health advice telephone line and the paramedic services of Ambulance New Brunswick.
Cormier pointed to the Newfoundland government’s decision to cancel a contract for private ambulance services in Labrador and assign them to the local health authority instead.
“It’s not working with the private [sector], the private is just there for profit,” Cormier added, referring to recent stories about slow ambulances in New Brunswick, where Medavie has run paramedic services since 2007.
To read Hector Cormier’s thoughts on the public meetings he has attended so far, click here.
No public support
During the two-hour meeting, one member of the audience after another spoke out against the government’s plan to privatize management of extramural home care.
One of them was Sackville Town Councillor Megan Mitton.
“I’m shocked to hear that this is happening,” she said, adding that she studied similar issues in university.
“And basically every example of public services being moved into the private sector, it pretty much always goes wrong,” she said. “It ends up costing more and services suffer.”
Mitton added that her father died of cancer earlier this year and received “amazing care” from extramural services while he was at home.
“I have a lot of criticisms about our health-care system, and extramural is pretty well the only thing that was great,” she said. “Extramural was the only medical attention that felt like care.”
Mitton, along with other speakers, wondered why the government was tampering with home care, especially since there seems to be no public support for such changes.
Liberal reps respond
Throughout today’s meeting MLA Bernard LeBlanc and provincial cabinet minister Lisa Harris defended the decision to consolidate the management of extramural services. They argued that Medavie has the advanced technology needed to integrate the 811 help line with extramural and ambulance services.
Harris argued, for example, that paramedics from Ambulance New Brunswick could supplement the work of extramural nurses by conducting assessments of patients in their homes.
“That’s why we say that this is not about saving money,” she said. “It’s trying to add to the care that we have, because we want people to be able to remain home, in their homes, as long as possible.”
Few, if any, at the meeting seemed convinced that the New Brunswick government is on the right track.
Former Sackville Mayor Pat Estrabrooks, who organized the meeting, urged people to sign a petition calling on the government not to privatize the management of home care services.
“I’m going to send it to the premier,” she added, “and I’m hoping he’s going to listen.”