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‘The politics of it are ugly,’ former N.B. Liberal minister says of health care reform

N.B. health care changes drawing mixed reviews from province
WATCH: Medical professional associations are reacting mostly positively to the announced reforms, but the affected communities are voicing anger and fear. Silas Brown reports.

People are reacting to the health care changes announced by the New Brunswick government and its regional health authorities, which would, in part, see the nightly closure of six rural ERs across the province.

While the plan to reform health care has faced backlash in some communities, there is a wide range of concerns and comments.

Michael Murphy, who served as New Brunswick’s Liberal health minister from 2006 to 2009, calls the move a “good” decision despite the fallout.

“This is a good and logical decision, but the politics of it are ugly,” Murphy tells Global News. “And there are some edges of these things that can be smoothed off.”

“If the government fell and there was a new government, that new government would still face the same problem of having a shortage of physicians to go to these areas,” he says.

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“Nurses, they’d be really no different.”

READ MORE: Opposition mounting to ER closures, other health-care reforms in New Brunswick

While people like seeing an ‘H’ on the building in their community, Murphy says hospitals in rural communities aren’t what everyone thinks they are.

He suggests striking committees with local community leaders who can communicate with government and the health authorities to figure out more information — and hopefully find some room for compromise.

“[They should] sit down and find out from the health authorities what [services were] actually in the hospital, what was actually going on, and what doctors were available, what nurses were available, what difficulties there were,” he says.
“Then find out about these cases in middle of the night, whether they were truly emergencies or not, then sit down with the health authorities and the government [to find solutions].”
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“It’s a big mistake,” Cecile Cassista, executive director for the New Brunswick Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, says of the overall decision.

“What is this going to do with our ambulance service? It’s going to prolong them getting to the next [patient] because they’re going to have longer to travel.”

READ MORE: Opposition mounting to ER closures, other health-care reforms in New Brunswick

Cassista says that will also clog up the bigger hospitals when people from those rural areas are brought in.

But the province defended the decision, saying on average, about five people use the ERs at those rural hospitals.

Protestors in Sussex gathered outside of hospital against health care changes
Protestors in Sussex gathered outside of hospital against health care changes

Horizon health says a recent announcement of more nurse practitioners will help combat the “slightly increased traffic” expected at hospitals in the big urban centres as a result of the move.

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Meanwhile, there are about 70 advanced care paramedics across the province, and they need to be utilized to their full potential to make the move work, according to the paramedic’s association.

“Things like clot-busting drugs that will reverse the affects of people having heart attacks,” says Chris Hood, of the Paramedic Association of New Brunswick, “they’re important, especially when you’re talking about some of these long distance transport times.

“So we’re suggesting the paramedics are trained for that, they’re licensed to do that, and the system needs to allow them to do that.”

Chris Hood, of the Paramedic Association of New Brunswick, says the move highlights the need for advanced care paramedics across the province
Chris Hood, of the Paramedic Association of New Brunswick, says the move highlights the need for advanced care paramedics across the province. Silas Brown / Global News

Joel Mattatall, an advanced care paramedic, says creative solutions such as Rapid Response Units will need to be utilized in those communities.

For major emergencies, he said, they tend to skip rural centres and go to the bigger regional hospitals — but not always.

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“For some specific life-threatening cases, we would be stopping at these hospitals to have that intervention rendered,” Mattatall tells Global News.

“So now that that’s no longer an option, that’s why we need those advanced care paramedics to step up and fill those gaps.”

Karen McGrath, the president and CEO of Horizon Health Network, says ANB has the capacity to deal with emergencies across the province despite the changes
Karen McGrath, the president and CEO of Horizon Health Network, says ANB has the capacity to deal with emergencies across the province despite the changes. Travis Fortnum / Global News

To the paramedic concerns, Karen McGrath, the president and CEO of Horizon Health Network says, “Ambulance New Brunswick does have the capacity to be able to deal with these emergency situations.”

Paramedics will receive briefing on statistics and facts to determine how they’ll be impacted.

“They will be able to deploy their ambulances accordingly,” she says.