Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says he remains committed to every health-care promise he campaigned on to win this summer's election.
Houston spoke to CBC on the third of a four-day, provincewide tour to meet with front-line health-care workers and hear their concerns and ideas for improving the health-care system.
"I'm actually more energized and more focused right now. We know the problems exist, we know the challenges, but we also know there's opportunities," Houston said in an interview at a stop in Bridgewater, N.S., Wednesday night.
Houston campaigned on a plan to spend an additional $430 million on health care in his first year in government to improve access to primary care, decrease surgical wait times and ease the pressure on emergency departments.
Help from Ottawa
Houston said he is hoping for an increase to the federal health transfer, but his government's plans are not contingent on getting more money from Ottawa. Following through on the Tory campaign platform would push the province deeper into deficit, but Houston has said he thinks the spending is necessary.
"The federal government supporting us can help us do more," said Houston.
The request for larger health transfers is a longstanding one from all Canadian premiers, and will be on the agenda again next week when the Council of Atlantic Premiers meets in New Brunswick.
Houston said that after speaking with health-care workers at stops in Cape Breton, Truro, the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore, he's been especially struck by the accounts of nurses and continuing-care assistants (CCAs) who have told him they're anxious about going into work each day.
Several workers echoed that at the event in Bridgewater.
One CCA told Houston short-staffing at the long-term care facility where she works routinely leaves her feeling "stressed," and "exhausted mentally, physically."
"They're feeling overwhelmed and you can't help but feel that emotion," Houston said. "So they need to be supported. We're going to support them to the best of our ability. We want them to stay."
More than that, Nova Scotia needs health-care workers to stay, as it grapples with a major nursing shortage. Staff shortages in long-term care mean some facilities cannot accept new patients. A shortage of physicians has more than 70,000 Nova Scotians waiting for a family doctor.
'We feel the urgency'
Houston said he'll regroup with Health Minister Michelle Thompson and his health-care leadership team in Halifax next week to discuss what they heard on the road and make decisions about next steps.
Houston said he believes he's already shown he's willing to take action quickly with the firing of Nova Scotia Health's CEO and most of the board of directors the day after he was sworn in as premier.
"There will be some things that we can do in the shorter term, some things are going to take longer. But I mean, we're action orientated … We will do what we can as soon as we can. We feel the urgency."
On Thursday, Houston made good on one of his campaign promises by announcing the expansion of a virtual care program for people on the wait-list for a family doctor or nurse practitioner.
More changes coming soon, says premier
He told reporters it's just one of many new health-care initiatives to come from his government in the near future.
"I would say that over the next few weeks ... we'll see some of those early, short-term action items take place," he said.
Houston said his government is also looking at expanding the scope of practice for a variety of health-care workers, including LPNs, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and paramedics.
He said he's also interested in bringing in practitioners that are not being widely used in Nova Scotia, including physician assistants. There's currently a pilot program with three physician assistants working in orthopedic surgery.
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