New Brunswick

Liberals rebuked for use of trauma room during wait times announcement

Opposition MLAs were critical of the government's use of a Fredericton trauma room to announce a multi-year plan to reduce wait times — another in a string of election-year pledges.

Deputy premier says patient care wasn't delayed, alternative room was at the ready

The setting of a Liberal pledge announcement to reduce wait times in hospitals has been criticized by Opposition MLAs. (CBC NEWS)

The Progressive Conservative Opposition says it's had enough of Liberal pre-election gimmicks from the Gallant government.

Tory MLA Brian Macdonald is questioning why Premier Brian Gallant and two of his ministers used a trauma room at Fredericton's Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital for an announcement on health care funding.

"They shouldn't be using a treatment room for a photo op. There's lots of places in a hospital to do a press conference," Macdonald said.

The PC MLA said while he didn't know "for sure," he expects the decision would have forced some patients to wait longer for treatment — a paradoxical effect of a media event ostensibly about reducing wait times.

Premier Brian Gallant makes announcement promising a multi-year plan to reduce wait times in hospital. (CBC News)

"I know people are probably right now sitting in the waiting room in that hospital looking for bed space or treatment space," Macdonald said. "I would be very surprised if those beds weren't required for something else."

Government responds

But Deputy Premier Stephen Horsman, who attended the event and represents a Fredericton riding, said government officials made sure no patients would be delayed.

He said there was a back-up room ready for the announcement, which could have been used with five minutes' notice.

"We had lots of time in case of a warning," Horsman said. "If someone had needed that room, we would have vacated and gone to a secondary location in the hospital."

Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital. (Alan White/CBC)

Macdonald said it's also likely the trauma room had to be sanitized after the news conference, keeping it off-limits for even more time.

Horizon Health refused to comment on how the use of the room might have affected patients, but Health Department spokesman Bruce Macfarlane said in an email statement Horizon agreed to the setting.

"The room is a treatment room not an operating room," Macfarlane said, "therefore making sterilization unnecessary. However, I can tell you that the room is thoroughly cleaned after each use. Patient care was not affected in any way."

$25-million pledge

The announcement itself was billed as being about wait times, though it focused on about $25 million in health-care funding in a range of areas, from the hiring of more nurse practitioners to a better diabetes strategy to new colon cancer screening.

"Nothing that was announced yesterday is going to address wait times," Macdonald said.

He said it was strange to see the Liberals banning elected officials from appearing in government advertising while at the same time blitzing the province with announcements aimed at promoting the Liberals.

Some of the elements in the government's news release, such as hundreds of new nursing home beds, had been announced before.

There were few details for some of the other items, with Health Minister Benoit Bourque telling reporters the government didn't want to dole out all the information at once.

"You give it in small bites so it's easier to chew," Bourque told reporters.

PC MLA Brian Macdonald criticized the use of a trauma room for spending announcement related to reducing wait times. (CBC)

Macdonald said it's part of a Liberal plan to dominate news coverage with positive announcements leading up to the Sept. 24 election.

"I'm sure we're going to see a drip-feed approach," he said. "That's a political tool to stretch out this announcement."

Last week, the government announced a new nursing home plan and then followed it with announcements of three new nursing homes under that plan, and one home for patients with dementia, in different parts of the province.

It also made several announcements on different aspects of its plan for legal cannabis sales.

 'It's a bit dramatic'

Green Party Leader David Coon agreed the government is going overboard.

"This is what we're getting these days is these announcements, these press releases where they throw everything vaguely related into a pot and roll it out and say, 'Here you go,'" he said. "But you can't discern what's in that pot."

Horsman denied the glut of Liberal announcements is aimed at voters.

"This is not just because it's an election year," he said. "I've been doing it since day one, and every time we do an announcement, the Opposition has a negative connotation."

Coon also questioned the decision to use the trauma room.

David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, said the government is going overboard with recent election-year spending announcements. (Jacques Poitras/CBC file photo)

"If the premier had a first-aid certificate, maybe if an ambulance rolled in he could help the nurses out," he said. "Otherwise it's inappropriate to go do that. ... It's a bit dramatic, I guess, but there's other places in the hospital where they could do their photo op."

He said other than a pilot project to free up hospital beds used by hip and knee surgery patients, Tuesday's announcement had nothing to address wait times.

The trauma room photo op wasn't the only Liberal gimmick that the opposition criticized Wednesday.

They also condemned a motion by Liberal MLA Victor Boudreau to have the legislature "commend" the government for $73 million in new spending in last week's budget and for record-high spending in four government departments.

The budget itself must be voted on by all MLAs to pass and take effect. But Boudreau said he wanted to highlight the PC position on the new spending in particular.

"The Opposition parties are always going to vote against the budget," he said. "But the budget is such a big number, it's more than nine billion dollars, so they could then say, 'But we support this part of the budget or we support that part of the budget.'"

The Tories have questioned the high levels of Liberal spending without saying they'd cut it.

Macdonald said the Liberal motion of self-congratulation is a waste of time when there are more important issues to debate.

"It's ridiculous," he said.

But Boudreau said the Tories have been doing their share of time-wasting posturing themselves, including two days of questions in Question Period about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent comments about veterans' benefits, a subject the province doesn't deal with.