article by Adam Huras
“Huge cracks are opening up in New Brunswick’s health care system and this government seems oblivious to the fact. When emergency services are not available when you need them it says to me that the government has its priorities screwed up.” – David Coon
Both the Progressive Conservatives and Greens have delivered a scathing criticism of the Gallant government’s handling of several health files in what was a lengthy and heated exchange during question period on Tuesday.
The condemnation jumped from troubling ambulance statistics and a lack of paramedics to a shortage of nurses and questions surrounding emergency room wait times.
Premier Brian Gallant then stood to label the opposition attack as “fear mongering.”
Gallant referenced beefed-up health care spending with hundreds of millions of dollars going toward a list of hospitals he read off one by one. He also pointed to several nursing home announcements recently made among a list of other initiatives he says will help reduce wait times.
Health Minister Benoît Bourque said superior health care is delivered “most of the time.”
The criticisms levelled against the government come in what could be the final week of the legislature ahead of the next provincial election. Both the government and the Progressive Conservatives have signalled that few sitting days remain.
Meanwhile, the back and forth over health care largely stemmed from statistics referenced from several Brunswick News stories in the past few weeks.
Progressive Conservative MLA Brian Macdonald cited a Telegraph-Journal’s reporting of a lack of available paramedics that led Ambulance New Brunswick to pull ambulances off the road more than 7,500 times last year.
Ambulances were sidelined for more than 30,000 hours, an increase of more than 55 per cent compared to the year prior.
He then referenced another story that reported more than 100 Ambulance New Brunswick employees, the majority of whom are paramedics, are off work and suffering from injuries they sustained on the job.
Of those cases, 43 per cent are related to mental health trauma.
“The stats are public not because the government released them, but because journalists had to fight to get the information,” Macdonald said. “Will the premier finally acknowledge what is now obvious to everyone, that their mismanagement of our health system is creating a crisis with ambulances in New Brunswick.”
Macdonald said the government’s contract with Medavie that will see paramedics visit people’s homes to give them care will only stretch resources more thin.
“The situation has gotten worse and yet instead of fixing the situation they decide now is the time to pile crisis on top of crisis and ask paramedics to do even more,” he said.
Bourque disagreed, maintaining the Medavie system will help New Brunswickers get better access to quality care and ultimately reduce wait times. He added the Paramedics Association of New Brunswick “appreciates” that the government recognizes the increased scope of work their members can perform.
“To say that we’re in a crisis situation, that’s simply not true,” Bourque said, responding in French. “We recognize that there are situations that are often hard. We know that like any other system we can never meet 100 per cent of our obligations 100 per cent of the time.
“Certainly, we see in the media that there are situations that happen and that’s unfortunate, but most of the time everything that happens when it comes to ambulance services in New Brunswick it’s of superior quality.”
He later added that the government is “working with Ambulance New Brunswick to ensure that they continue to pursue their contractual obligations.
“For the vast majority of the time, a very very high percentage of the time, they do perform their contractual obligations,” Bourque said.
But Green Party Leader David Coon then went on the attack in citing a Daily Gleaner story that Fredericton’s emergency room has seen a 25 per cent increase in urgent cases this season compared to the same time last year.
Coon also referenced a shortage of nurses blamed for the temporary closure of the non-acute area of a Moncton hospital’s emergency department last month.
“Huge cracks are opening up in New Brunswick’s health care system and this government seems oblivious to the fact,” he said. “When emergency services are not available when you need them it says to me that the government has its priorities screwed up.”
He later added: “I don’t know why the minister refuses to acknowledge that we have a nursing shortage in this province. We’ve got a crisis emerging here.”
Gallant responded by listing hospital spending, a new midwifery program, increased access to reproductive health services, the establishment of advanced care paramedics and the hiring of new doctors as actions his government has taken that will “help reduce wait times and ensure we are strengthening the quality and accessibility of health care.”
“One thing that won’t help the wait times is all the fear mongering coming from the members opposite,” the premier said.