Author by : TOM BATEMAN
Photo by : TOM BATEMAN
From left, Tory MLA For Moncton Southwest Sherry Wilson, People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin, NDP leader Jennifer McKenzie, New Brunswick Senior Citizens Federation president Léonard LeBlanc, Green Party candidate in Gagetown-Petitcodiac Marilyn Merritt-Gray, Jean-Luc Bélanger of the Association acadienne et francophone des aînées et aînés du Nouveau-Brunswick and New Brunswick Union head Julie Proulx-Daigle wait for their turn to speak at a press conference protesting the transfer of extra-mural care to Medavie Health Services on Friday.
Representatives of four political parties and five other organizations spoke out Friday against the Liberal government’s transfer of New Brunswick’s extra-mural home care and Tele-Care 811 programs to Medavie Health Services.
Between 50 and 60 people attended the news conference at Moncton’s People’s Park Tower, organized by Cecile Cassista, the executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents Rights. They heard about an hour’s worth of speeches against the deal, promises from all four political parties not in power to attempt to reverse the transfer, and were sent home with ‘STOP PRIVATIZATION’ bumper stickers.
Cassista said the purpose of the meeting was “a show of solidarity on a very important matter” and to ask the government to reverse the deal, announced before the Labour Day long weekend by Liberal MLA Victor Boudreau, who was replaced as health minister the following week.
“Our message on this is simple and brief – private over public, that’s what this issue boils down to for our members working in the extra mural program.” said Susie Proulx-Daigle, president of the New Brunswick Union.
Proulx-Daigle said the workers she represents are concerned that the changes will come at the expense of the quality of the care they’re able to provide and noted the extra-mural program is frequently called the ‘crown jewel’ of New Brunswick’s health-care system.
“Why would the government want to change something that’s working? Will time limits be placed on visits? Will employees have increased workloads? Will the health-care provider be impacted by the company’s desire to reach the incentives in the contract?” she asked.
In response to a request for comment from the Times & Transcript, Medavie responded with an emailed statement.
“Medavie Health Services is looking forward to continuing to engage with all stakeholders involved in this partnership going forward,” Isabelle Landry, a spokeswoman for Medavie, said in the statement.
Many of the speakers questioned the accountability of Medavie will have once it’s running.
“There will be accountability and the department of health will continue to plan, fund and monitor the services by setting standards and performance expectations,” Landry said in the statement.
She said financial statements related to the extra-mural program and Ambulance New Brunswick will be available in the same way they currently are for ANB.
Cassista said she’s talked to former ministers and deputy ministers who have told her the program shouldn’t have been touched.
“We can’t all be wrong. Everyone is saying the same thing,” she said
Joining Proulx-Daigle and Cassista at the podium were Moncton Southwest Conserivated MLA Sherry Wilson, NDP leader Jennifer McKenzie, People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin, Green Party candidate in Gagetown-Petitcodiac Marilyn Merritt-Gray, Canadian Union of Public Employees general vice-president Daniel Légère, New Brunswick Senior Citizens Federation president Léonard LeBlanc, and Jean-Luc Bélanger of the Association acadienne et francophone des aînées et aînés du Nouveau-Brunswick.
McKenzie, the NDP leader, said the Medavie deal is part of a “disturbing trend” she’s seen by the Gallant government in supporting privatization, following allowing Canadian Blood Services to set up a pay-for-plasma clinic in Moncton and agreeing to a hospital services deal with Sodexo.
“We always need to change and revamp and revitalize, but why could we not make those changes from within?” Merritt-Gray, a former nurse, asked. “Extra-mural was designed and delivered by us as New Brunswickers, what’s wrong with us now?”
Cassista invited new Health Minister Benoît Bo
urque to the meeting. Department of Health spokesman Paul Bradley said he couldn’t attend because he was at the health department’s announcement of a new Crown corporation to oversee the sale of non-medicinal cannabis, scheduled for the same time.
Bradley said in an email that the province needs to strength its the community-based, primary health-care system, to free up hospital space as the province prepares for more demand in the coming decades.
Integrating the extra-mural program, Tele-Care 811, and Ambulance New Brunswick will do that, he wrote.
“Our government wants to ensure that New Brunswickers receive the appropriate care, at the appropriate time and place, by the appropriate provider,” he wrote. “As an example, if an elderly person called telecare under the current model, and was suffering from a specific ailment and Telecare was unable to determine the seriousness of the ailment they might have to direct the patient to the ER.”
Medavie, the non-profit entity that has operated Ambulance New Brunswick since 2007, signed a 10-year contract to take over the additional two programs in an agreement that sets performance-based incentives that include goals like reductions in emergency room visits, more home visits, less hospitalizations, less variation in extra-mural programs and faster intake to extra-mural programs across the province.
About 32 senior managers now employed by the province will become employees of Medavie Health Services, the Dartmouth-based sister company to Moncton-based Medavie Blue Cross. It runs 12 subsidiary companies in Canada and Massachusetts that employ nearly 3,500 health care professionals.
The approximately 700 employees affected will remain government employees and all pay, benefits and pension benefits will remain the same, Boudreau said, adding Medavie will honour all collective agreements.
The targets for Medavie, according to a statement from the province this week, are a reduction in emergency department visits, increased number of visits in the extra-mural program, maintain patient satisfaction, the time between EMP referral and delivery of care and increased community referrals.
Cassista met with Greg Byrn, the premier’s office principal secretary, and two deputy ministers from the health department earlier this week to talk about her concerns, but on Friday she said she’s undeterred from continuing to protest.
“They didn’t have a lot of answers for us,” Cassista said.
“Medavie channels its annual net income into investments aimed at enhancing our clients & patients’ experience and as a social dividend to the Medavie Health Foundation,” said CEO Bernard Lord in a written statement to the Times & Transcript last week.
“We invest in our people, in our operations and innovation, and through the Medavie Health Foundation, we invest in initiatives that support health-related outcomes in the communities where we live and work.”
That health foundation focuses on child and youth mental health and type 2 diabetes, along with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Several of the speakers questioned why the programs management wasn’t offered up in a tendering process – something Boudreau said at the news conference didn’t happen with the Medavie transfer.
“A health services program can enter into a procurement contract with a prospective supplier by mutual agreement, as per Section 158 (j) of the Procurement Act,” Bradley said in an email.
He said Medavie is “uniquely positioned” to provide the scope of services government wished to procure, and it already had a relationship with the company. The new public service part III entity will be required to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
“We need to provide more care in the community so that our hospitals are ready for the demographic demands over the next couple of decades,” Bradley wrote.