New Brunswick

Province dropped ball on preventing overcrowded ERs, advocate says

A longtime health consultant says government inaction is to blame for long wait times in hospital ERs and people sleeping in hospital corridors because there are no free beds.

Government has had years to prepare for ER wait times exacerbated by aging population

With an aging population, hospitals across the province are grappling with seniors taking up hospital beds while they wait to get into nursing homes. (CBC)

A longtime health consultant says government inaction is to blame for long wait times in hospital ERs and people sleeping in hospital corridors because there are no free beds. 

Ken McGeorge, who co-chaired the New Brunswick's Council on Aging, said the health-care system needs less talk and more action to deal with overcrowding.

"We could be a model for the country and then the ball was dropped," he said.

Last week, Horizon Health chief of staff Dr. John Dornan said about 24 per cent of hospital beds are occupied by people who need to be in nursing homes or their own houses, and not in hospital.

"The problem that he's describing goes back to 1967 for heaven's sake," McGeorge said.

"I'm embarrassed that we've been talking for how many decades about the very same issues, and I'm embarrassed that we have not had or supported the leadership that we needed to do to deal with those issues. … We can be a model in health care for the country, we're not anywhere close to that right now." 

New Brunswick's population is quickly aging and the province has one of the highest numbers of seniors per capita. According to Statistics Canada, people over 65 years old make up almost 20 per cent of the population.

77 recommendations

McGeorge said he and Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard made 77 recommendations in their aging strategy in 2017, and he doesn't expect to see all of them implemented.

Fourteen are relatively inexpensive recommendations that have to do with improving home care for seniors to help them avoid being in the hospital.

In P.E.I., a geriatrician with the encouragement of government has set up what they call the coach program. And in two years they have done what we have only talked about. - Ken  McGeorge,  health consultant

But instead of implementing the recommendations, the government started an "aging secretariat" and roundtable of around 65 people. Last year, this group produced yet another report, which McGeorge said was the wrong move.

"It's back to the future," McGeorge said.

No one at the Department of Health would agree to an interview with CBC News.

In an emailed statement, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said the government will "develop a plan for improved home care, building on the work of previous governments."

Leader needed

McGeorge said that to their credit, Department of Social Development workers have been working hard on home-care initiatives, but these have "only made a very small dent."

He said he doesn't have a "silver bullet" solution but believes focusing resources on home care and working together would be a step in the right direction.

"There is a great divide between the regulators and the service providers. There's a big gap of understanding."

To combat the gap, McGeorge, said Premier Blaine Higgs must appoint someone who can be a leader and unite departments to focus their work on this one issue.

"Somebody has got to be the spark that pulls people like Dr. Dornan and others together with a clear mandate to fix that," McGeorge said.

"You need a leadership team. Civil servants can't do it [alone]. Politicians can't do it. Just as in P.E.I., a geriatrician with the encouragement of government has set up what they call the coach program. And in two years they have done what we have only talked about."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.