The McNeil government has embraced in principal recommendations by the auditor general to review health facilities in Nova Scotia — but it won't be closing any.
"There's no plan to close hospitals," Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine told reporters Wednesday.
Instead, according to the minister, the government will look at "re-purposing" them.
More than Nova Scotia can afford?
Auditor General Michael Pickup's latest report, released Wednesday, suggested the province has more health facilities than it can afford.
There are nine regional hospitals across the province, plus the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax and 31 other facilities, including collaborative emergency centres.
The report highlighted the fact some of those facilities urgently needed work not budgeted for, such as elevators used daily at the South Shore Regional Hospital, and an electrical system at the Dartmouth General Hospital that cannot be serviced without power being cut altogether.
According to the report, a new automated lab installed at the Victoria General Hospital is at risk from leaks because pipes in the building are old.
Few dollars for lots of work
Auditors said management at the Nova Scotia Health Authority had identified $114 million worth of urgent work province-wide, but the governing Liberals had only set aside $29 million to cover capital projects this year.
That $85-million funding gap was one the reasons the AG's office called on the province to come up with a plan for facilities and services.
"You don't necessarily want to advance right away to expending money on a facility that may not be part of your plan in terms of how you're going to deliver services," Pickup said.
He urged authorities to come up with that plan within the next year or so.
"We wouldn't want to be sitting here in three years saying, 'Why did you spend that money on this facility that you turned around four months later and decided, in terms of your plan, this is what we're going to do to it?'"
Hospital fix timeline unclear
The minister of health agreed, and went out of his way to embrace a specific paragraph in the AG's report, reading it aloud to reporters at a news conference.
"Given the maintenance needs, poor condition of certain facilities, varying occupancy rates, and proximity to other facilities, the Health Authority needs to assess the needs of all communities and the province as a whole, before it commits to replacing or significantly repairing any facility," Glavine read from the report.
He said some of that work was underway, but the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Janet Knox told reporters a comprehensive plan for the province would not be ready for "a couple of years."
Some renos to go ahead
Rather than wait, however, Glavine said some renovations would go ahead on projects he said were long overdue.
"Many of them started, in fact, five or six years ago, and were in scope and ready for delivery," he said.
Those projects include a new primary health-care clinic for Shelburne and continuing work to upgrade the Dartmouth General Hospital.