Opposition parties express 'confusion' over plan for rural health-care hubs

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition says its proposal for a pair of rural health-care hubs is "just a line in the [capital] budget" at this point, while MLAs from all three parties in the legislature continue to say they don't understand what government plans to do with the $5 million allocated to the project.

"We were really glad to see that commitment in the capital budget," said Green Party health critic Trish Altass.

"We just know that it's a line in the budget, we don't know what the government's plans are moving forward."

Budget documents describe the allocation, to be made starting in the 2020-21 fiscal year, as "providing the necessary space for renewed and strengthened community-based primary care to meet the needs of West Prince and Kings County."

The issue sparked many questions during the fall 2019 sitting of the legislature, with Premier Dennis King eventually telling the House the idea came from the Green Party platform.

Not 'invited to the table'

In fact, the Greens submitted a proposal for funding for the hubs to government as part of capital budget deliberations.


That submission suggested one rural hospital each in eastern and western P.E.I. receive upgrades in infrastructure to accommodate an expansion of services, including primary and long-term care, community support services, mental health and addictions treatment, home care services and emergency, acute and post-acute care.

The "key question" that needs to be addressed is "what services can we possibly bring from urban areas to our rural communities and what do we need to do that?" Altass said.

But she said the capital funding to prepare the space and purchase equipment for the hubs is just one component. The plan would also require new staffing policies and strategic planning from Health PEI.

"We would certainly hope to see follow through with the rest of what would be needed to make this work," Altass said. "However to this point we have not yet had those conversations. We've not been invited to the table to figure out what this is going to look like."

On the last day of the fall sitting — a sitting extended by one day by Liberal MLA Robert Henderson over his frustrations over a lack of information on the hubs and other topics — Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward said government "will be increasing the breadth of health services while maintaining the existing services in communities as they are, including family doctors."

Rob LeClair/CBC

He said the hubs will provide services in rural areas that aren't currently available, including cancer care, diabetes and mental health support.

This week Aylward said government will "absolutely" collaborate with the Opposition on fleshing out a plan for enhancing rural health-care services through the hubs.

"We had lengthy discussions in the latest session of the legislative assembly where we talked about this. I was questioned daily on health-care hubs," said Aylward.

He said he's told Altass "that we are going to continue to have the consultative process and discussions on our plan to move forward with health care here on P.E.I."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness told CBC News the province will be engaging with communities and health-care professionals to talk about the hubs, but didn't provide any timeline.

'The Opposition is also confused'

At a committee meeting Wednesday where the province's plans for primary care in rural P.E.I. were questioned, MLAs from all three parties each said they don't know what government's plans are for the hubs.

"There's been a continual story from the third party [Liberals] that they're confused about what these hubs are," said Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

Where's this money going to be spent? What's it going to be spent for? — Liberal MLA Robert Henderson

"The Opposition is also confused about what these hubs are ... I have no idea what government is doing when they talk about health hubs."

Bevan-Baker said a proposal from South Shore residents to have a doctor and two nurse practitioners provide primary care from a new clinic in Crapaud is something "that can absolutely live comfortably together" with his party's ideas around health-care hubs — but it's not a hub.

"I also don't know quite what the health hubs are either so I'm not going to get into that debate," said Cory Deagle, a backbench MLA with the governing PCs.

O'Leary-Inverness MLA Robert Henderson, who asked most of the questions around hubs during the fall sitting, said in an interview with CBC a lack of specific information around staffing and services is the "missing link" in terms of the proposal, and the main reason why he voted against government's capital budget.

"That's the whole thing — what's missing here?" Henderson said.

"What the Greens seem to be talking about … is really funding that would be through the operational budget. That's why I'm confused … whose initiative is it? Where's this money going to be spent? What's it going to be spent for?"

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