Nfld. & Labrador

Unions condemn Paul Davis's long-term care bed plan

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis laid out plans Tuesday for a bigger role for private and non-profit sectors in long-term health care in the province.

Labour groups come out swinging, decribing plan as shortsighted, attack on public workers

Premier Paul Davis announced Tuesday a plan for a bigger role for private and non-profit sectors in long-term health care in the province. 2:24

An announcement Tuesday by Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis that the province will consider a bigger role for private and non-profit sectors in long-term health care delivery was greeted with widespread condemnation from labour groups.

The plan will see the addition of 120 new beds in Corner Brook, 120 between Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander, and 120 new beds on the northeast Avalon.

New facilities will be built to house the 360 new beds, which will be constructed, owned and operated privately.

"It's incumbent for us to think outside the box. I believe this plan does just that," Davis said at the Rotary Paradise Youth Centre Tuesday morning.

Critics say plan is flawed

The announcement drew immediate criticism from Jerry Earle, president-elect of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE). 

Earle called it an attack on the public health care system and public sector workers.

"This is another move by this government, championed by employer groups who stand to make huge profits from these agreements, towards a greater role for the private sector in the delivery of public services," said Earle.

"Make no mistake; we will fight this privatization agenda."

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy, meanwhile, called on the premier to prove that privatizing long-term care facilities will provide good quality care at a reduced cost.

"It started with the ill-advised Bill 42. Now a government on its last legs is fundamentally changing the very basis of elder care without proper consultation," said McCurdy.

McCurdy highlighted similar efforts in Ontario and Nova Scotia that, in the end, cost taxpayers far more that projects that are publicly financed and built.

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL), described the plan as shortsighted.

"The privatization of residential long term care really means that there is a profit motive added to the care of our seniors," she said .

"The privatization of long term care services will mean a lower quality of care, lower staffing levels and higher costs for residents."

Outside corporation to facilitate

Davis, along with Health Minister Steve Kent, outlined the basics of a plan to allow private or community sector groups to build and operate the facilities, with the provincial government paying a per-bed fee.

The model is commonly referred to as public-private partnerships, or P3s.

Kent said a competitive process will take place to find the most financially viable options to build and run the facilities.

He also announced that the government will be getting help from Partnerships B.C., a Crown corporation in British Columbia, to help facilitate between the government and the private groups that will be running the facilities.

Kent said similar models have been used in B.C., Saskatchewan and Yukon.

Corner Brook facility to be part of new hospital complex

With regards to the new facilities to be built, Kent said only a plan for Corner Brook has been developed so far.

"The Corner Brook facility will be built on the site that has been prepared for the new west coast hospital, as part of the existing hospital complex model," he said.

"The process of selecting the other sites is still to be determined, and will be announced shortly."

Kent said the private operators running the sites will be required to meet all provincial standards.

He also said people shouldn't be concerned when they hear of government outsourcing health care services to the private sector.

"People are sometimes concerned when they hear about private sector engagement in the delivery of health care services," he said.

"We need to remember that private and community providers already play a prominent role in providing care in Newfoundland and Labrador."

NAPE says P3s have a record of failures

Jerry Earle said there's nothing new or innovative about Tuesday's announcement, and said there are "serious flaws" in how governments tally the benefits of P3s versus conventional public projects.

"You don't have to look very far to see the failures of the P3 model," said Earle.

He said the Ontario Auditor General recently released a damning report about P3 projects in that province, saying the projects cost over $8 billion more than if they had been fully financed and operated by the public sector.

"P3s have been about private investors and companies dipping their hands in the public purse, at the expense of taxpayers," said Earle.

"Essentially, taxpayers and future governments are left holding the bag for projects that this government can take credit for in the short-term, all while businesses line their pockets."

Nurses say plan is 'wrong approach'

The union representing registered nurses acknowledged Tuesday there is a need to expand long-term care beds, but said the government is taking the "wrong approach."

"I have to question the position that standards of care will remain the same. How do they think for-profit companies make their money? You have to do something with less to make a profit," said Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses' Union Newfoundland & Labrador.

"Staffing levels are already cut too low in our long-term care homes. In some facilities, one registered nurse oversees and co-ordinates the care of up to 80 residents."    

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