Debate on the erosion of health services at Northside General Hospital

October 21, 2014

FRANK CORBETT: The only thing I regret about the resolve is it just says Northside General because I think this impacts all the small community hospitals across the breadth of the Cape Breton District Health Authority and some of my comments will spread beyond Northside General, in particular the New Waterford Consolidated Hospital that is just over 51 years old. They will be affected by the point-of-care testing and I would take my time today to put on record that we will see people, who are otherwise employed at that hospital for blood collection and testing services, go to the regional hospitals.

Madam Speaker, the idea of putting services in one area is not new but the reality is that when you see the erosion of services in small community hospitals, these are services that will never again be put back there. Once you go down that slippery slope of taking things out, they will never be replaced, whether it is the acknowledgement of closure or whatever.

I want the House to realize that – some of the comments I heard earlier – the pride which the government takes in moving to one superboard, if the people in my community, in New Waterford and area, or the people in Glace Bay, and in particular to this resolution on the Northside, if they are having a hard time convincing people 15 or 20 miles down the road of the wrongness of a decision, how are they going to get it through to somebody who is 400 kilometres down the road, Madam Speaker? It is really perplexing to think that will be solved by moving the people who can rectify that situation, the decision makers, further away if you will, but for some reason this government seems to believe that.

Now part of the issue, as I understand it from the district health authority folks, they are saying there is a lack of lab techs. As the previous speaker, the member for Northside-Westmount talked about that issue, it’s about training. There is not a better example in any level of education in this province than the Nova Scotia Community College for its ability to be nimble and react to labour’s needs.

We’re not reinventing the wheel here, we are saying look, there’s a shortage here, let’s go in and fill that gap. They are good paying jobs. Why wouldn’t we go and talk to them? Why aren’t this government and the leadership at the Cape Breton District Health Authority talking to people who have their feet on the ground there, the lab techs in this case, why aren’t they talking to them about a resolve? Why is that top down? If it’s top down in Sydney, imagine what it’s going to be like when it’s all done out of Halifax.

I can only speak first-hand about hospitals in my area, but for the breadth of everybody across in this House that have community hospitals, I would be very afraid of what can happen, because this week or this month, we’ll say it, is a shortage of lab techs. Where does the next line come from that we have a shortage in, as opposed to going out and trying to fix the shortage? I can go back to the previous Liberal Government, when there was a shortage of doctors back in the 1990s, but what did they do? Did they go out and put more seats in Dalhousie? No, they took them away. They took seats away, Madam Speaker.

If I am a little bit hesitant to say that their form of graduate retention for doctors is going to be the save-all, I will at best reserve judgment on that. I really have a hard time saying with any guarantee that that will come forward, because I believe it will not.

For the life of me, I understand streamlining, I understand when you have to do things that are to scale and so on, but to say that getting rid of techs is a good thing – and that’s not what the management of the Cape Breton District Health Authority is saying. If I am understanding them properly, they are saying it is because there’s a shortage of lab techs. It’s not because there’s a shortage of work in North Sydney or New Waterford or Glace Bay or any of those areas. It’s a shortage of workers.

Well, let’s deal with that. Let’s deal with the shortage of workers. Let’s not cut back services in areas where it is most needed. I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anybody, either, that these areas have a high population of seniors. Now, again, the member for Northside-Westmount talked about personal issues about his mother-in-law and so on, but I’m sure there are hundreds of those stories out there. He gave that testimonial, if you will, Madam Speaker, because it’s first-hand and he could speak with some directness about it.

I would like to think that that was an isolated case, but in practice around this time, it’s not isolated. What we really need are services in the community, especially for seniors. They’re the ones who have a hard time, whether it’s getting to it if they’re by themselves – because what we have now, Madam Speaker, is the phenomenon in areas like, again, I’ll speak about my area in Cape Breton County, that is seniors living by themselves who have become somewhat marooned, if you will, because that family apparatus that was around for years has now been almost wiped out.

What has happened is, if you have someone who is a senior, who is in their 70s or 80s, they may have had a son or a daughter, who maybe would have been in their late 50s or so, and then the grandchildren moved down and those greater family supports. But Madam Speaker, we’ve seen an out-migration that we have not seen ever before, I would say, in those parts of Cape Breton. I think it would stand true in many parts of Nova Scotia, where the people who are probably still able to give comfort and aid to their senior parents have moved out West to be with their young children who live out there. So these folks are by and large by themselves.

So where do they go? Do they panic and call a cab for $30 or $40 to get to a hospital? These issues are not being resolved by cutting time in labs or cutting times to emergency rooms, this government has had a year and has not opened one CEC, not one.

What I would ask for, rather than celebrate their differences and their ongoing dispute with health care workers, I’m asking this government to come up above the fray, call a truce, talk to the front-line health care workers and find out how we can resolve issues of training and jobs and get our people, whether they’re young or old, the medical services they need, deserve and depend on. Thank you.