Nova Scotia's top health official used her appearance before a legislature committee Wednesday to suggest community health centres may get something the groups have long pleaded for — stable provincial funding.
"We're looking at the development of a community-wellness framework," deputy health minister Jeannine Lagasse told the public accounts committee. "We're looking at different models for primary care and how we're going to fund them.
"Working with community organizations, like the organizations who are represented here today, in developing those frameworks. We're saying, 'How can we make them sustainable, give them sustainable funding in the broader model.'"
Lagasse pointed to a meeting the department has scheduled next week with Sexual Health Nova Scotia, one of the groups called before the committee, to talk specifically about a new funding proposal.
Community health centres get some money from the Department of Health but that's strictly for the medical clinics they run, not for the many other services they provide, such addictions counselling or help for people who are homeless. Those are funded mainly by donations or grants that are not guaranteed.
Representatives from the North End Community Health Centre in Halifax and Our Health Centre in Chester seemed caught off guard by the invitation to meet and the possible new avenue for funds.
"I don't mean to throw the government under the bus but we've never been asked for an application, we haven't been asked for new funding," said North End executive director Marie-France LeBlanc.
She said when it comes to funding, her organization has been bounced back and forth between the provincial health authority and the Department of Health.
Speaking to reporters after the committee meeting, LeBlanc said she was pleased with the offer.
"That's been an ongoing battle for a really long time," said LeBlanc. "The fact that they're willing to chat about it is a good first step.
"But, you know, certainly we're behind the times as a province in recognizing that community health centres are a solution to a problem and that we've been a solution for a long time."
At the table
The Chester centre's executive director, Lorraine Burch, reacted similarly.
"I'm actually quite optimistic," said Burch. "There's so much more we could do that we can't do because we just don't have funding.
"We've been advocating for this kind of an audience and to be at the table where decisions are made."
At next week's meeting between the province and Sexual Health Nova Scotia, which oversees five health centres in the province, the group will ask for $451,000, according to executive director Leigh Heide.
"It's a substantial increase, but it actually only allows [the centres] to continue to do the work that they're doing" on a full-time and year-round basis, said Heide. "They can't add any staff or any programs."
Heide said a centre in Pictou overseen by Sexual Health Nova Scotia has been closed almost a year because it ran out of money. Others regularly close during part of the week and have to shut down months at a time because they can't afford to pay staff full-time and year-round.
Heide said last year centres operated on the same $291,00 budget as 2020 because they were told flat out not to ask for an increase because the provincial coffers were depleted as a result of COVID-related costs.
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