New Brunswick

Public shouldn't get power to veto reform, health authority chair says

The chair of the anglophone regional health authority says public consultation should not mean the public can have the power to veto health-care reform.

Sussex and Perth-Andover mayors say everyone agrees reform is necessary

Horizon Health Network board chair John McGarry says he hopes a summit in June 'doesn't become an opportunity for every stakeholder to simply proclaim that all would be well if only more money was committed.' (CBC)

The chair of the anglophone regional health authority says public consultation should not mean the public can have the power to veto health-care reform.

In a statement on the weekend, Horizon Health Network board chair John McGarry said he hopes a health summit planned in June will not be solely focused on rural issues and said change at this point is necessary.

"The public should be consulted but cannot be given veto to reject anything that threatens status quo," he wrote. "The fact is status quo is threatening itself, as we speak."

The June health summit was announced after the province walked back its plan to end overnight hours at six rural emergency rooms. Premier Blaine Higgs previously said the public outcry highlighted problems with the plan that he did not see initially.

The summit is meant to be a way to consult the public on health reforms before they're implemented.

In his statement, McGarry said the problems with the province's health-care system extend further than rural New Brunswick.

"I hope this summit deals not only with rural issues, but also the fact that the regional hospitals are facing a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in their ability to serve every New Brunswicker — rural and urban," he wrote.

The reforms originally outlined the closures of emergency rooms in Sussex, Perth-Andover, Sackville, Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls from midnight to 8 a.m. with the goal of reallocating resources to take care of more daytime patients. The plan also included turning all acute-care beds in those hospitals to chronic-care beds, serving people waiting for nursing-home options.

For the patients who are waiting in hospitals for a spot in a nursing home, McGarry said, "the summit needs to hear we are providing them with inadequate care."

Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne says people are less likely to oppose change if they're involved in the planning. (Gary Moore/CBC)

He also said New Brunswickers should be past the point of thinking that more money is the only solution.

"Let's hope the summit doesn't become an opportunity for every stakeholder to simply proclaim that all would be well if only more money was committed," he said. "Or, if only Ottawa would turn over more cash."

The fallout from announcing the plan then cancelling it includes the resignation of deputy premier Robert Gauvin and vice-chair of the Vitalité health network Norma McGraw.

Bruce Macfarlane, spokesperson for the Health Department, said Ted Flemming, the minister, would not be available Monday to comment on what McGarry had to say.

'No plan can be perfect'

Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne said he agrees with most of what McGarry says. No one is saying keep the status quo, because everyone can see the health-care system is faltering, Thorne said.

"We all know that no plan can be perfect," he said.

But Thorne said reducing emergency room hours was a no-go for many people, because they'll lose their sense of security.

"My first reaction is that [emergency rooms] appear to be untouchable," he said. 

But that doesn't mean consultation won't change their minds.

"I think a middle-ground can always be found as long as people can gain an understanding. And that unfortunately has been what's been overlooked in the introduction of the reforms."

Thorne was one of three mayors who've called for the health minister's resignation, citing loss of trust.

Marianne Bell, mayor of the village of Perth-Andover, said her community also agrees that reforms are needed.

"It's about finding the best ideas," she said. "We'd be willing in our community to move forward with really good reform."

She said she is not "drawing any lines in the sand" about reforms, but her community won't trust any changes unless they're meticulously informed about how the decisions were reached. She said to do this, health-care professionals should be able to speak freely and be listened to.

"All of the health-care professionals have suggestions for improvements," she said. "The health-care staff in our province need the freedom to speak about what's not working well."

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Saint John. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca

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