Beyond the Headlines

Nova Scotia's hospital funding challenge

Posted: Nov 22, 2012 11:15 AM ET Last Updated: Nov 22, 2012 11:15 AM ET
We've heard a lot over the past few years about our "infrastructure crisis." The aging state of our roads, bridges, sewers and water systems.  After reading Auditor General Jacques Lapointe's latest report we may want to add hospitals to that list.
 
Check out the first line in his report on hospital funding in Nova Scotia: "If funding stays at recent levels and available money is allocated as it currently is, Nova Scotia's hospital system cannot be adequately maintained and will continue to deteriorate."
 
According to the health department's own estimates, Nova Scotia will have to spend more than 600 million dollars over the next ten years to simply maintain the most basic infrastructure needs, and right now the government is only spending a fraction of that amount.
 
That scenario is even more disturbing when you consider the current state of our hospitals and the equipment needed to provide essential patient care. The AG's staff looked at the medical equipment at Capital Health, the province's largest health authority. Of its 13,000 pieces of equipment, more than 3,500, or 26%,  are more than 10 years old.
 
Shauna McMahon is the director of technology and infrastructure renewal at Capital Health.  In other words, she's the person responsible for making sure doctors, nurses and technicians have the equipment they need to do their jobs.
 
McMahon doesn't like to use the term "infrastructure crisis" but she admits it's a concern.
 
"On a provincial perspective, as the auditor noted, we do have a fair amount of aging infrastructure within the province and it's something that perhaps we need a broader strategy on," said McMahon, "but I'm also cognizant that as a province we have limited funds and we're competing with roads, education and other areas."
 
McMahon says staff at Capital Health work hard to service the equipment they have to keep it running in top-notch condition for as long as possible, and she says equipment needs are prioritized so emergency requests are moved to the top of the list and dealt with right away.
 
In his report, the Auditor general offers a number of recommendations for the province to get more bang for its health care bucks. Everything from developing multi-year capital plans, instead of the year to year plans we see now, to green-lighting projects that, while costly now, will result in significant savings in the future.
 
"If money is tight you really do have to spend your money very wisely," said Lapointe.
 
The reality is there will never be enough money in Nova Scotia to satisfy every hospital's wish list, but McMahon says infrastructure and equipment are only pieces of a much larger puzzle. She views the Auditor General's report as a challenge to health care providers to think outside the box.
 
"We do have definite concerns around infrastructure, but I really do believe it's a message to all of us to think about the future and how we move forward," said McMahon. "This is an opportunity for us to really re-think the way we have designed health care in Nova Scotia, how we deliver it and what we need in the future to be more efficient."
 
It's a challenge the provincial government and our health care providers can't afford not to take seriously.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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