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Challenges to be addressed in New Brunswick’s health-care system

Profile photo:At the provincial government’s nursing resource strategy release to focus on recruitment, retention, promotion of the nursing profession, and enhancing nursing education and employment and work-life balance. From left: Jean Daigle, Horizon Health Network; Johanne Roy, Vitalité Health Network; Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder; Health Minister Hugh J. Flemming; Julie Weir, New Brunswick Nursing Home Association and Nurses Association of New Brunswick; Lorna Butler, University of New Brunswick; Maureen Wallace, Nurses Association of New Brunswick; and Laurie Janes, Nurses Association of New Brunswick.
Earlier today, New Brunswick’s regional health authorities announced placing measures to reallocate medical resources. These measures are aimed to enhance access to services, improve the quality of patient care, and make the health-care system more sustainable for the province.

Chief Executive Officer of Vitalité Health Network, Gilles Lanteigne explained, “We are coping with a severe shortage of medical professionals, an ageing population and increasing mental health needs. These challenges are becoming more and more visible systemwide with 23 service interruptions in areas such as labour and delivery, general surgery and hospital clinics.” 

“The changes we will be implementing are designed to improve access and ensure services are there when patients need them most,” added Lanteigne. 

Karen McGrath, president and chief executive officer of Horizon Health Network said, “Working closely with our colleagues at Vitalité, we have proposed these changes based on a careful and thorough review of Horizon’s programs and services, the needs of our patients and clients, and the reality of our staffing resources.” 

“In order to really improve care, we must make significant changes in the way we are currently doing things. These changes we have announced today prepare us for the challenges we are facing,” she continued.

It is estimated that approximately 35 per cent of physicians, 40 per cent of nurses, and 40 per cent of medical laboratory technologists are eligible for retirement over the next five years. This presents a significant challenge and is one that cannot be managed through recruitment alone.

 New Brunswick’s regional health authorities have announced that health-care professionals must be moved from services that are underutilized and redeployed to meet the growing needs of the province’s population. 

They have shared the following measures which are being taken to improve the sustainability of the existing health-care system:

Optimizing emergency department hours to support vital services

As a means of freeing up time and resources for physicians and nurse practitioners, the hours of emergency departments in six community hospitals are going to be adjusted. 

From March 11th, 2020, the emergency departments at Sussex Health Centre, Sackville Memorial Hospital, Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph in Perth-Andover, Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de Kent, Enfant-Jésus Hospital in Caraquet and Grand Falls General Hospital will operate from 8 a.m. till midnight, with the last patient accepted prior to 10 p.m.

Currently, these hospitals see an average of five patients per night, and the majority are not emergencies.

“In critical situations, such as trauma, heart attacks and strokes – ambulances often take patients directly to larger centres where they can access the specialized services they need,” explained McGrath. “These changes will allow physicians and nurse practitioners to see more patients in the daytime, in their community practice.”

Reducing waitlists by more than half

According to the press release adjusting the emergency department hours in these six communities will allow for a nurse practitioner to be hired in these locations. Nurse practitioner clinics will also open in the province’s largest urban centres as a method of managing high caseloads and reducing the provincial wait list for a family doctor or nurse practitioner by approximately 54 per cent. 

Improving addiction and mental health services

In addition to nurse practitioners, mental health services will be also be added in the six communities where changes are being made to emergency department hours. 

The addition of mental health clinicians will supplement the existing resources in these locations. The regional health authorities are currently developing a new model of care, as a means to reduce wait times as well as offer a broad range of services in community mental health clinics.

Converting 120 acute care beds into long-term chronic care beds

In the six hospitals undergoing emergency department hour changes, the regional health authorities are converting acute care beds to long-term chronic care beds. 

It has been recognized that most are currently being used by seniors waiting for an alternative level of care. By officially re-classifying them as long-term care beds, staff will be able to support acute care patients and provide the correct resources for patients to receive tailored and appropriate care.

Ongoing patient-centric decision making and planning 

It has also been announced that the regional health authorities are reviewing several service areas to better deal with wait times, the aging population, and the rising demand for mental health services. The locations currently under review include a centralized co-ordination and referral model. 

This has been designed to ensure that specialists can reduce surgical wait times across the province, as well as, to ensure better organization of laboratory services, improved food, and environmental services, accelerated nursing home assessments, and more comprehensive home-care options in communities through the use of technology to enhance the existing Tele-Care 811 program. 

The New Brunswick Health Council are also planning to launch an independent and transparent review of clinical services offered within the provincial hospitals to identify a more sustainable model.

“We are listening to the experts, and I am pleased that the regional health authorities have taken several important steps to improve our health-care system in New Brunswick,” he said. “I am confident the plan will improve access to care and quality services – all while ensuring the long-term sustainability of our system for the people of this province and generations to come.”

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Ambar Syed

Born and raised in London, England, Ambar moved to Canada in 2017 after marrying her husband in the CAF. She has always loved writing and started her blog, Her Little Loves, in 2015 while studying for her B.A. (Hons) in English. Ambar is excited to write for CMFMAG and contribute towards the military family community.

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