Hospital congestion a 'serious' concern, health council says

The CEO of the New Brunswick Health Council agrees with Horizon Health Network CEO John McGarry that parts of New Brunswick's health care system are in crisis.

New Brunswick Health Council CEO Stéphane Robichaud says congestion has been a problem for several years

The New Brunswick Health Council's chief executive officer says he agrees that parts of New Brunswick's health care system are in crisis.

Stéphane Robichaud, the chief executive officer of the New Brunswick Health Council, says he agrees that congestion in hospitals is an ongoing problem. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)
Stéphane Robichaud, the president and chief executive officer of the New Brunswick Health Council, says having people in hospital beds that should be in long-term care is a challenging, ongoing problem that isn't improving.

"I've been in health care for eight years and it's been a recurring issue every year," Robichaud said.

He says when flu season hits there is always added pressure on beds in hospitals across the province.

"I think what resonates with me from what [Horizon Health CEO John] McGarry has said is there definitely needs to be more emphasis on the system coming together," Robichaud said.

"Why has that not happened in the last few years, that would be my question. Like I said, this was just as serious an issue in the last few years as well."

The problems facing New Brunswick's hospital was thrust onto the public radar this week when the president of the province's largest health network criticized  the system on Twitter.

"All regional hospitals facing intolerable congestion, when will system sit as one and fix the worsening situation," McGarry tweeted.

Health Minister Victor Boudreau said on Wednesday that he agreed with some of McGarry's statements. Boudreau said he wished McGarry would have called him before sending out the messages on social media.

McGarry has said he felt he had no choice but to go public about the "crisis" of surgeries being delayed because hospital beds are being taken up by patients who should be in other facilities after years of inaction by successive governments.

Solutions have to be found

Robichaud says the issue of having people in hospital beds that should be in some type of long-term care is not a problem that is limited to New Brunswick.

In many cases, he says, it is clear that patients don't need to be in hospitals.

"In jurisdictions where we've looked at this in a more holistic way, are there opportunities or situations where we could have sent some of these people home but with appropriate care?" Robichaud says.

He says the health of many people actually worsens when they are in hospital.

"The bottom line is unless you need to be treated for something or fixed in some way you shouldn't be in a hospital," he says.

"Nobody is picking them up and getting them out of bed to move a little bit and their conditions can deteriorate so it's not the proper place for them." 

Robichaud says he doesn't like the term "bed blockers" because it sounds as though people are doing something wrong, when they aren't.

"Who is doing something wrong? It's the leaders of our health services who are not making the types of changes so that these people are in the right hands."

"I cannot ignore the fact that this very same situation as we're living right now, we've lived this the last few years so I can join the chorus of those denouncing and complaining about this."

Robichaud says the reality is that moving people out of hospitals and finding them appropriate care in their communities is not something that can be solved overnight.

Report card gives N.B. a C

In its latest report card, the health council says the overall grade has not changed since last year with New Brunswick remaining average with a C.

The report card found there are areas that are consistently performing below average, including coverage of prescription drugs, wait times, readmission rates to hospitals, use of emergency rooms and hospital beds for cases that could be taken care of in the community and communication and transitions across the continuum of care.

This year's report also notes a lack of improvement when it comes to access to primary health care providers, such as family doctors.

"Such a shift is needed to improve health outcomes, reduce demand for acute care or hospital services and consequently help curb health system costs," Robichaud said. 

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