Private direction of New Brunswick health care brings out protesters

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Judge won't delay Liberals' privatization of extramural health care

Judge won't delay Liberals' privatization of extramural health care

About 175 people upset about the direction the Liberal government is taking health care in New Brunswick gathered with placards at Premier Brian Gallant's constituency office in Dieppe on Monday.

They protesters, including both health-care consumers and health-care workers, said they are concerned about a deal the province signed to turn management of extramural services and Tele-Care to Medavie Health Services New Brunswick.

The protesters were also upset about the possibility of the privatization of food services, portering and cleaning service. 

The province has been negotiating with Sodexo, a for-profit company, since 2014. There have been no recent updates on the status of the talks. 

Simonne Basque, who came to the protest from Tracadie, said she's concerned she may need extramural services someday. 

"I've followed all of the … meetings that we had and all that and I've read a lot, and like all the people that I know, it's not a good deal that we have with this program," Basque said. "So we have to move, we have to support those who works and say no to that program."

The non-profit Medavie won the 10-year-contract without going through a call for proposals or tendering process.

The company takes over Jan. 1, and the estimated cost of the first year of the takeover is $4.4 million.

At the time of the privatization was announced, then health minister Victor Boudreau did not give a reason for the change.

Although a private company will manage the service, decide how nurses will be deployed, how they work with each other and the extent of coverage they'll provide, Boudreau said this doesn't amount to privatization, since New Brunswick medicare will still pay for the health services patients get.

Dr. Hubert Dupuis, president of Égalité Santé en français, a francophone lobby group, said the privatization of extramural  isn't necessary.

"This has been done without a study," Dupuis said. "There's no study that says we have to privatize extramural hospital. Extramural hospital was not broken and is not broken."

"Extramural hospital is a very efficient system. New Brunswick is one of the provinces that puts less money per person in health care at home so extramural is very efficient because it's able to deliver health care at home at a very low cost."

Medavie also runs Ambulance New Brunswick, which has had a spotting record, according to critics.Dupuis called the service "a fiasco".

Extramural has been praised inside and outside the province as a jewel in the health-care system, although it's been battered somewhat in the past year because of the province's negotiations with Medavie, which led nurses who were kept in the dark to look for work elsewhere.

Several groups spoke at the protest, including the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights.

Cecile Cassista, the group's executive director, has been holding meetings across the province and said people have

been raising their concerns.

"We're here to deliver a message that we want the government to stop doing what they're doing," Cassista said.

"We're not accepting. Extramural is not for sale . We are absolutely opposed to all of it. We've travelled the province,  we've listened to the people, we want the government to listen to the people."

Assumes premier will listen

As the protesters disbursed, Cassista said she'll continue to fight.

"There's no question that we're going to continue on … I'm going to be encouraging people to flood letters into the minister, to the premier," she said. "He has to listen.

"This is about people's democracy and we basically need our voices heard." 

Extramural nurses in New Brunswick have been providing care to patients in their own homes for more than 30 years, and neither Boudreau nor his successor, Benoît Bourque, explained why the privatization was necessary.

Boudreau said it's not to save money.

'Better than 'same old, same old'

Bourque has refused to discuss the terms of the contract, including whether there are benchmarks Medavie must meet to avoid losing the contract before the 10 years are up. 

The minister said the public would only get this information after the contract is signed.

On Monday, Bourque said the government's contract with Medavie will improve the quality of care and create the capacity for more home visits.

The alternative is the "same old, same old," said the minister, who downplayed the size of the protest.