New Brunswick

Inaction on health-care crisis hurts everyone, economist says

New Brunswick is entering a "red zone" of health care and aging, according to a Moncton economist. Richard Saillant says the current health care crisis is about to get much worse.

'The system has already been brought down to its knees,' says Richard Saillant

Sackville Memorial Hospital is one of six rural hospitals in the province where emergency room hours were threatened to be cutback last week. (CBC)

New Brunswick is entering a "red zone" of health care and aging, according to a Moncton economist. 

Richard Saillant said the health care crisis is about to get much worse, especially if the government chooses to do nothing, as happened this week.

Last week, the government announced it would close overnight emergency rooms at six hospitals, but stepped back from the idea on Sunday after an outcry from the affected communities.

Saillant said the province's aging population and lack of money, combined with overworked health care staff, are factors that will continue to exacerbate existing problems if the government fails to act.

Potential for 'complete catastrophe'

The oldest baby boomers are now in their 70s, an age where more hospital care is required, Saillant said. At the same time, boomers are retiring from their jobs, leading to gaps in the health-care field and overworked staff. 

"When you have hundreds and hundreds of job vacancies, very well-paying jobs, in the health networks and no one to take them up, that means there's an extra pressure on the staff that is already there," Saillant said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.

"The system has already been brought down to its knees."

Economist Richard Saillant said New Brunswick's health care system has already been 'brought down to its knees.' (Twitter)

In a bid to attract more health-care workers, provinces will begin competing to recruit more workers. This competition will cause a spike in health-care worker's salaries, Saillant said.

He said New Brunswick and other rapidly aging provinces will need more money from Ottawa to sink into health care and the recruitment of nurses and doctors.

Richard Saillant is an author and economist, based in Moncton. He says the current healthcare crisis is only the beginning for New Brunswick, and we're entering a "red zone of health care and aging'. 13:40

"Ottawa at some point is going to have to provide more money to all of Atlantic Canada because it's aging faster."

He also acknowledged it isn't entirely feasible for the province to recruit its way out of what he deemed a "human resource crisis." 

"I do hope that we can recruit partly our way through this crisis because if not, then it's just going to be a complete catastrophe."

No use for 'window-dressing' consultation

Dr. Allison Dysart, who works in Sackville Memorial Hospital's emergency department, one of the places that almost lost overnight service, said problems in the health-care system have been hyped. He agrees the system is in crisis in some ways, however.

"As a health-care provider, we don't seem to be given the tools to do the job very well," Dysart said.

"I have patients waiting … they're on the surgical wait list. They're waiting a year and a half to get an operation done."

Dysart was on Horizon's medical advisory committee, one of the network's highest decision-making bodies, but resigned after the health-care changes were announced.

Dr. Allison Dysart is a general practitioner in Sackville and works in the hospital's emergency department. 9:15

"I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach," he said, citing a lack of consultation.

Dysart was upset with the way the two health authorities handled the announcement and the subsequent retraction of the plan. 

"Their response is, 'Well, you people just didn't understand.' … I mean that's pretty insulting stuff.'" 

He was skeptical about the government's plan to consult communities about steps to address problems, including the shortage of doctors and nurses.

If the health authorities have already made up their minds about what needs to be done, the consultation is just "window-dressing," Dysart said.

He also believes the people proposing cuts in rural New Brunswick don't live in rural New Brunswick and won't be affected by them. 

Saillant would not comment on whether the cancelled reforms amounted to an attack on rural New Brunswick, but he said everyone deserves access to quality health care. 

"Inaction right now is an attack on all New Brunswickers," he said. "When it comes to health care, our postal code should be much less important than the quality of care we provide to our seniors."  

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Moncton

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