Nfld. & Labrador

Social, economic challenges among biggest health concerns in N.L. according to report

Homelessness, universal basic income and food insecurity are among the biggest health concerns for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, according to an interim report by the premier's health-care task force.

Health accord group says system needs change, including spending

Sister Elizabeth Davis is one of Premier Andrew Furey's healthcare task force leaders. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

Homelessness, universal basic income and food insecurity are among the biggest health concerns for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, according to an interim report by the premier's health-care task force.

Sister Elizabeth Davis, one of the leaders of the task force, told CBC News Tuesday that poverty is one of the biggest determinants of illness.

"That includes such things as food insecurity, poor water supply, housing insecurity," said Davis, who formerly ran St. Clare's Mercy Hospital and the Health Care Corporation of St. John's, the provincial referral centre for tertiary cardiology and cardiac surgery services

Premier Andrew Furey's 25-member task force on health was formed in November to dig into critical issues in Newfoundland and Labrador's health-care system and to develop a 10-year plan for improvement while keeping the province's fiscal situation in mind. 

The group's interim report, released Tuesday after five months of consultation with the public, stakeholder organizations, provincial government officials and the four regional health authorities, represents its first step in addressing health-care problems in the province with a 10-year plan to address specific areas of concern relating to social, economic and environmental factors.

Dr. Pat Parfrey says the NL Health Accord team is trying to advise government on how to best deliver care given the province's fiscal envelope.   (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

The task force's second phase, to be completed by the end of September, will focus on further consultations with the public to identify areas the group can intervene in right away.

"These are the kinds of issues that are being talked about, but we have to really go back to the people in June and ask, 'Which ones do you think we should attend to most immediately?" Davis said. 

The report outlines six areas of focus:

  • Social determinants of health.
  • Community care.
  • Hospital services. 
  • Aging population.
  • Quality health care. 
  • Digital technology.

It also says the way that regular care from health-care providers is received needs to change.

The report says there's a compelling case for change in the health-care system, "rooted in the serious health inequity experienced by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

Spending

Dr. Pat Parfrey, another leader of the task force, has been vocal about how money is spent on health care. 

N.L.'s 2020 budget allocated about $3 billion for health, or 37.7 per cent of the province's overall expenditure. In November, Parfrey estimated about $600 million is either being spent improperly, or at least inefficiently.

But, Parfrey told CBC News, he didn't think too much about saving money while helping develop the Health Accord NL interim report. 

He said the team is trying to give advice on how to best deliver health care within the province's budget. 

The health care task force will deliver it's final report by Dec. 31 with recommendations on how to improve the system in Newfoundland and Labrador over the next 10 years. (Paul Daly/CBC)

"We strongly feel that we need to rebalance social and medical spending. We need to rebalance spending in the community for the medical system and within hospitals," Parfrey said. 

"That's the arena that we're engaged in. The government will, using the democratic approach, determine the fiscal envelope and we need to change how we spend that money."

The interim Health Accord NL report says health outcomes in Newfoundland and Labrador are among the worst in Canada, with the lives of residents shorter by 2.6 years than those other Canadians. The lives of Canadian Indigenous people are shorter by 4.7 years.

The province also has among the highest rates of chronic disease, as well as death from cancer, heart disease and stroke in Canada, even when adjusted for age demographic.

The final report is due by Dec. 31. Parfrey said the task force will make strong recommendations for implementing its strategies for the next 10 years.  

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Carolyn Stokes

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