The voices of New Brunswick’s health care workers and community organizations must be heard on any changes to the health care system.
Recently, Premier Blaine Higgs announced major anti-democratic reforms to the structure of New Brunswick’s health care system by moving the health minister to a new portfolio, eliminating hospital boards in favour of trustees, and consolidating decision-making in the hands of a select few.
The New Brunswick Health Coalition, which represents thousands of workers in health care and long-term care sectors as well as community organizations throughout the province, are concerned about the recent structural changes and demand that their voices be heard on the solutions to the health care crisis. While the Premier has spoken about the need for better management and efficiency, he’s not spoken much about the biggest problem: lack of workers. Health care was operating at a deficit in personnel before the pandemic and has gotten much worse resulting in a crisis situation.
The New Brunswick Health Coalition puts forward the following recommendations:
● Include workers and community organizations as part of the solution: By removing elected board members, the Higgs government took away the eyes and ears of the health care system. This potentially unlawful action is reducing accountability and transparency. This crisis will not be solved unless the boards of the health authorities are reinstated and comprised of fully elected members.
● Commitment from the Premier that privatization will not be part of the changes: Privatization will only ensure the wealthiest among us have access to the best care, creating a two-tier health system. Adding private players will also cause duplicity in our health care system, which results in even longer patient wait times. Privatization of public services has shown that it costs more to taxpayers.
● Reinstate the New Brunswick Employment Insurance Connect program: The program made it possible for people who had worked enough hours in summer jobs to be eligible for Employment Insurance benefits while at university or doing other full-time training. We need more people in the health care field and putting up barriers for them to complete their studies is the opposite of what the government should be doing.
● Use part of the budget surplus for recruitment and retention of health care workers: Recruitment and retention is a major issue facing health care. We know this won’t be fixed overnight, but we have to start making changes immediately. The province has recorded nearly half a billion dollars in a surplus the past two years. It’s time that money went to the people who do the work.
● Guarantee money for health care will be spent on health care: Money sent from Ottawa to the province during the pandemic was not always used as intended. Much of it went to creating a surplus in consecutive budgets. The money was supposed to help New Brunswickers get through tough times. Premier Higgs and other provincial Premiers are asking the federal government for more health care dollars with no strings attached. Given the crisis we are facing, we must ensure health care dollars are spent on improving health care. We want quarterly reports made public from the provincial government on how the funds are being spent to ensure public confidence the money is going where it should.
● Reinstate masking protocols immediately: With cases and hospitalizations rising rapidly, we need to take whatever measures possible to ensure our hospitals can keep operating. The government should reinstate mandatory indoor masking in public areas until the numbers of cases and hospitalizations dramatically decrease. Masking is not an infringement on people’s rights, but a way to show one another respect, especially our health care workers.
We hope Premier Higgs takes these recommendations seriously. The well-being of New Brunswickers is at stake. The system has been starved of resources for years, simply replacing politicians and consolidating decision-making power is not a long-term plan for sustainability.
We know the Premier has stated that throwing money at the health care crisis will not improve it, while at the same time asking Ottawa for more funds to be used at his discretion. Money needs to be spent on the system, specifically on recruitment and retention to properly ensure the best care is delivered.
Quotes from the members of the New Brunswick Health Coalition:
Bernadette Landry, co-chair of the New Brunswick Health Coalition and member of the Francophone senior’s group, Association francophone des aînés du Nouveau-Brunswick:
“Given the magnitude of the current health care crisis, the New Brunswick Health Coalition agrees with the provincial government that the percentage of federal health transfers must be increased, but it is essential that these allocations be conditional on their use in public health care services. The Coalition believes that the public has a right to know where the New Brunswick government plans to invest federal transfers in this area.”
Paula Doucet, President, New Brunswick Nurses Union:
“Health care has been in a crisis for many years in New Brunswick. We didn’t get to this place of chaos overnight and now we are in the eye of the storm, trying to find innovative ideas to help a crumbling system be more sustainable. There are only so many health care workers expected to continue to provide care as though we are functioning at full compliments, when we know there is a dire shortage in many health care disciplines at the moment.”
“The decisions made last week look very similar to the decisions that were made at the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to help navigate through with few people making decisions. It will be up to us to ensure accountability, responsibility and effective change for not only New Brunswickers accessing care, but most importantly, for those providing care. They are drowning and need to know there is help on the way. Robust retention and recruitment initiatives need to be explored and implemented as soon as possible.”
Susie Proulx-Daigle, President, New Brunswick Union:
“We need more workers in health care. Any statements such as needing to increase efficiency, better streamlining or improved workflow coming from government simply means they want workers to continue to do more with less. For years politicians have used the same refrain and it is simply a recipe for disaster. Until government realizes more workers are the answer to the problem, our health care system will remain in crisis.”
Norma Robinson, President, NB Council of Hospital Unions, CUPE 1252:
“Health care has been in a downward spiral for many years. The deterioration of health care did not happen overnight, it did not happen due to staff not being committed to ensure health care was sustained. The deterioration is due to poor management by the government. They have stayed the course on the destructive “do more with less” policy direction that is at the root of the current staffing crisis. Unions, interest groups and various citizen organizations had flagged those problems to the various governments over the years. Most calls for help remained ignored. For decades, attrition, service cuts and service reduction remained the rule of the day. The pandemic only aggravated an already untenable situation.”
“More than ever, the Higgs government must act to ensure service is sustained in all areas of the province to guarantee accessibility to all New Brunswickers. The research is clear; privatization always costs taxpayers of New Brunswick more and more over time. The provincial government should respect its basic duty to ensure we have a well-functioning, publicly-funded and publicly-run health care system. We are not simply missing doctors or nurses; we have gaps in almost all sectors of health care. These issues must be addressed openly and honestly to ensure there are initiatives achieved and implemented as soon as possible.”
Daniel Legere, President, New Brunswick Federation of Labour:
“The government is investing more and more money in privatization, whether it is the agreements with third party actors like Medavie, which manages ambulance and extra-mural services, with Maple, which manages the eVisitNB virtual consultation services, or with mobile nursing agencies, which help solve the nursing shortage in the short term, but are much more expensive and therefore cannot be considered as a long-term solution, since they deprive the public sector of precious financial resources that it urgently needs. Most recently, the government has decided to subsidize students who enroll in Peak Form Academy to train online as care workers, when much better quality training is available locally in community colleges. All the money invested in the private sector is less money in the public sector.”
Gabrielle Ross-Marquette, Labour Co-Chair, Common Front for Social Justice:
Privatizing services won’t solve the current healthcare issues and adding a financial barrier or user fees will affect many New Brunswickers living in poverty who already cannot access the services they desperately need. The importance of services like health care became increasingly evident in the COVID-19 pandemic. New Brunswickers, especially people living in poverty, low-income workers, families, people with disabilities, youth and seniors, find it difficult to access healthcare services, including family doctors, primary care, acute care, long-term care and mental health. As we’ve seen over the past several months, many emergency departments across the province have closed for periods of time due to staff shortage.”
“The barriers to healthcare access are compounded with the recently rising cost of living and inflation rates which mean people can barely afford to pay their rent, utilities and groceries. Statistics Canada announced today that prices increased by 9.1 per cent in New Brunswick between June 2021 and June 2022. We cannot risk additional barriers to access public services when low-wage earners’ pay cheques are not going as far as they used to, and fixed income New Brunswickers cannot hold their heads above water.”
The New Brunswick Health Coalition is a coalition of labour unions representing health care workers and community organizations that advocates for public health care.