Thursday, November 12, 2020

Who will government listen to?

An unsettling pattern is emerging with the Blaine Higgs government when it comes to healthcare.
The Premier has been quoted often saying his government will listen to experts when it comes to important decisions regarding the health of New Brunswickers.
Take for instance these statements from a September 2, 2020 CBC article:
[Higgs] said it's not his government's job to make changes to the current health-care system, saying such decisions are better addressed by health-care professionals.
"I'm not going to invent political changes in areas of expertise that we want to rely on professionals to help us make better decisions," he said.
During the pandemic, it would appear he’s done just that by listening to the advice of the province’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell. However, outside of the pandemic, it seems as though the voices of experts are not being considered by this government.
Perhaps the most publicized example of this concerns the closure of Clinic 554. The only facility to perform abortions outside of a select few hospitals in the province, the clinic served numerous New Brunswickers as a family practice as well as provided healthcare for marginalized communities.
Simply funding the procedure at the clinic would have prevented the closure. In this case, experts were calling for the government to do just that. Here’s a statement from the New Brunswick Medical Society on the issue:
The New Brunswick Medical Society fully supports the efforts of the obstetrics and gynaecology staff in Fredericton who are urging the provincial government to fund out-of-hospital surgical abortions. New Brunswick is the only province that doesn’t fund this necessary service outside of hospitals, forcing many women to pay out of pocket for the service or travel long distances to receive care. Physicians, patients, and Horizon Health Network have all acknowledged the need to make this service more accessible to patients. Clinic 554 provides a safe environment for abortions and reproductive care; it is a health resource for LGBTQ patients across New Brunswick, and it serves as a family practice for thousands of patients. It is a valuable part of our health system and must be maintained.
Experts in their field made the case and government ignored them when it came to Clinic 554.
More recently, the issue of Long-term Care (LTC) homes have taken the spotlight in the provincial healthcare debate. Outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred at some homes resulting, unfortunately, in the death of some elderly residents.
The Minister of Social Development, Bruce Fitch, was presented with a report compiled by the New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) called The Forgotten Generation: An Urgent Call for Reform.
The report cites the "growing severity" of several issues, including low staffing ratios, residents sometimes going without care, such as toilet use and bathing, and an increase in violence in the LTC sector. It offers many recommendations and called on the government to order an independent inquiry into the sector.
Compiled over two years, the report is filled with insights from leading academics and seniors advocates – people with expertise in this field.
Here’s the response from Minister Fitch in an October 17 article on CBC:
The union called for an independent inquiry to examine the state of long-term care in New Brunswick.
Fitch said now is not the time for that because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"To bring resources from our department, from the different unions and from various stakeholders to study this even further, to me might not be goal-achieving," said Fitch.
"What we need to do is take action and make sure that the residents are getting the care that they need today."
It should be noted that Fitch didn’t clarify or offer what actions he would take to make sure seniors are getting the care they need.
Again, presented with a study complete with experts in the field and facts, the government decided to not listen.
Finally, the New Brunswick Union (NBU) suggested the province move to a single-site policy for those working in nursing homes to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 between homes. This type of policy has been put in place in other provinces and is advocated by medical professionals including an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Fitch responded in the press that a version of this type of policy was in place, but the current situation has it only as a recommendation in certain phases of COVID-19 and is only mandatory after an outbreak is declared which is likely too late.
Again, experts in the field along with those working on the front lines make suggestions based on fact and best practices. The current government doesn’t like what it hears and ignores the suggestions to the detriment of its citizens.