Former nursing professor concerned

A former nurse and University of New Brunswick nursing professor has declared that provincial healthcare cuts have compromised patient care. A twenty-seven-page report recently submitted to Horizon Health Network, the New Brunswick Department of Health, and the New Brunswick Nurses Union outline Penny Ericson’s concerns.

Ericson’s husband, Carl, passed away earlier this year. Ericson spent a lot of time at the Dr. Chalmer’s Regional Hospital in Fredericton during his treatment. Her criticism was informed by this experience.

Ericson’s report stressed its purpose was to be used “as a learning/teaching tool, not as evidence for litigation.” According to Ericson, staff are improperly trained and equipped to clean sufficiently.

In an interview with CBC, she said, “I put everything squarely on the shoulders of the board. The hospital has focused on saving money because the government has put them in that position.”

Horizon Health Network is the province’s anglophone health board, which covers central and southern New Brunswick, including the Sackville Memorial Hospital. Vitalité Health Network covers northern New Brunswick, and the other predominantly francophone areas in the province. Both of these entities are funded by the New Brunswick Department of Health.

Ericson’s criticism was not directed at staff, but at recent administrative cuts.

In April of this year, The Department of Health announced the Horizon Health Network would be losing 131 positions, saving nearly $6.7 million of $22 million in projected cuts in the 2013-2014 budgetary year.

The president of Horizon Health Network, John McGarry, stressed that it would not be front-line care providers being cut, but “administration and management, non-clinical positions across the board.”

While Horizon’s cuts seem steep, Vitalité is cutting nearly 400 positions over three years, with projected savings of $24 million. Facilicorp NB, responsible for support services for New Brunswick hospitals, will lose fifty-seven jobs. While Facilicorp provides a variety of services, it is their laundry services that will be subjected to the cuts.

New Brunswick’s Department of Health operates with a $2.5 billion overall annual budget, with almost seventy-five per cent of that spent paying employees of the department and its subsidiaries. Recent cuts have amalgamated departments and fired a large number of administrators.

New Brunswick’s health care system, much like other provincial programs, suffers from a small tax base and low population density. Official bilingualism also contributes to higher costs of healthcare delivery, because two sets of administrative structures are necessary.

Much like the recent amalgamation of New Brunswick school districts, the change in organizational structure from four English and four French health authorities to Horizon and Vitalité was done with an eye for reducing administrative costs.

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