New Brunswick

'Major concerns' about privatized management of extramural, Tele-Care

New Brunswick's commissioner of official languages is voicing "major concerns" about the provincial government's decision to hand management of extramural and Tele-Care services over to the private sector.

Official languages commissioner and Égalité Santé speak out about N.B. government's contract with Medavie

Katherine d'Entremont, the official languages commissioner, is questioning how the government will ensure Medavie complies with its language obligations when the company takes over the running of home-care services and Tele-Care. (CBC)

New Brunswick's commissioner of official languages is voicing "major concerns" about the provincial government's decision to hand management of extramural and Tele-Care services over to the private sector.

Medavie Health Services New Brunswick will take over the home health-care program and 811 health advice line effective Jan. 1, Health Minister Victor Boudreau announced in Moncton on Friday afternoon.

Katherine d'Entremont promptly issued a statement calling on the minister to clarify the "measures planned to guarantee the respect of citizens' language rights as well as to ensure the vitality of our two official languages."

She noted Medavie already manages Ambulance New Brunswick, which continues to experience "many challenges" in delivering bilingual services more than 10 years after its creation.

The francophone lobby group Égalité Santé en français was also quick to criticize the plan, calling it unconstitutional and a direct and blatant attack on the rights of francophones.

The group is already suing the provincial government, seeking more independence for the Vitalité Health Network, and has advised the Gallant government on numerous occasions not to proceed with this privatization of management plan, said president Dr. Hubert Dupuis.

Dr. Hubert Dupuis, president of Égalité Santé, continues to vigorously oppose the changes officially announced in Moncton on Friday. (Michel Nogue/Radio-Canada)
Ambulance New Brunswick offers "a poor quality service" for francophones and Acadians, as well as in rural parts of the province under Medavie management, he said.

"The premier is not listening and is moving forward with his actions to destroy the Vitalité Health Network and its francophone health services," said Dupuis.

Bilingual service promised

Boudreau said Friday that extramural and Tele-Care services will continue to be bilingual under the government's 10-year contract with Medavie.

But d'Entremont, who had also expressed bilingualism concerns in February 2016, when the plan was unveiled during the release of the Department of Health budget, still isn't satisfied.

Section 30 of the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick stipulates that when the province engages a third party to provide a service on its behalf, the province is responsible for ensuring that its linguistic obligations under the act are met by the third party, said d'Entremont.

"Other than an expected clause pertaining to the respect of the Official Languages Act (OLA) obligations in the contract between the provincial government and Medavie, what controls does the Department [of Health] plan to put in place to ensure that Medavie complies with its language obligations at all times?" she asked.

It's a requirement for the government of New Brunswick and thus Medavie to offer services in both official languages. And we take pleasure in doing this.- Bernard Lord, Medavie CEO

Medavie is well aware of its obligations, said CEO Bernard Lord, the former Progressive Conservative premier.

"It's a requirement for the government of New Brunswick and thus Medavie to offer services in both official languages," Lord said. "And we take pleasure in doing this.

"The ambulance service in New Brunswick is now more bilingual than ever."

The official languages commissioner said non-compliance is often related to poor planning in the recruitment of bilingual staff and second-language training for employees.

She wants to know whether the Health Department will require Medavie to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure it has the staff necessary to provide bilingual service throughout the province at all times.

In addition, d'Entremont is questioning what measures are planned to guarantee employees will continue to be supervised and receive human resources and professional development services in the language currently used in their health network.

Vitalité's administration operates in French, while the Horizon Health Network's administration operates in English.

"This initiative must be accompanied by effective means of ensuring full compliance with the Official Languages Act in addition to contributing to the vitality of our two official languages," said d'Entremont.

With files from Michel Nogue