Retired Saint Andrews Doctor thinks Gallant deserves credit for healthcare funding agreement

Courier stock photo Horizon Health has asked New Brunswickers to think twice before heading to an ER; alternate suggestions are walk-in clinics and urgent care centres.

Gallant deserves credit for signing health care funding agreement

Saint Andrews- Premier Brian Gallant, and Health Minister, deserve credit for the recent signing of a health accord with the federal government, says Dr. Gordon Higgins, a retired physician now living in Saint Andrews.

The agreement, signed last month, will see an estimated additional investment of $230 million for home care and mental health over a 10 year period. This, said Higgins, will enable more New Brunswick citizens, when they are struck with a chronic illness, to remain in their own homes.

“This is a huge breakthrough as it is the first time Ottawa has provided the funds for chronic care. Premier Gallant and the Minister of Health deserve a lot of credit for this as home care is the only solution… This is exactly what is needed in New Brunswick to remedy the chronic care patients in our acute hospitals.”

Higgins, who is 94, said he has been on both sides – as a medical provider, and now as a receiver of health care services.

He took care of hundreds of nursing home patients as an internist in Calgary. He was founding chair of the Medical Advisory Board of the Calgary and District Auxiliary Hospitals and Nursing Home Association, as well as a past president of the Alberta Society of Specialists in Internal Medicine.

Now he and his wife Edna, 93, both have chronic health care issues that make them eligible for nursing home care, but were able to remain in their home with the help of a private care work, and regular visits from Extra Mural nurses.

“I cannot say enough good about the care these individuals provide along with the family support that we receive.”

Higgins said they started at two hours a day for three days a week, and this grew to three hours a day, for seven days a week. About a month ago, his wife entered a nursing home, but he continues to have a private care worker come in three hours a day, seven days a week.

If one needs nursing home care in the Saint Andrews/St. Stephen area, he said, there is a long waiting period to be admitted into Passamaquoddy Lodge, or Lonicera Hall, which takes a year or more.

The same is true throughout the rest of the province, said Higgins, because there is a shortage of nursing home beds, and the province’s hospitals are clogged with patients waiting for a nursing home bed.

“A quarter of our hospital beds are occupied with such patients. The top floor of Charlotte County Hospital is congested with patients waiting for a nursing home bed. The wrong patients are in the wrong beds resulting in a huge capital insufficiency.”

The cost, per day, in a hospital is $950, said Higgins, while the newly announced cost per day in a nursing home is $246 – a difference of $704.

For 448 patients – the number of beds occupied by alternate level of care patients in Horizon Health Network hospitals as of the end of November – he said that is an annual cost to New Brunswick taxpayers of $115,118,080.

“$115 million is a lot of money to a province with an aging population and a large and increasing debt. This must change and a solution is not to build more nursing home beds but to titrate the degree of care to the need of the patient.”

Higgins said most nursing home patients do not need a lot of professional nursing home care, but lots of smiles and physical help.

“The nursing home problem can only be resolved by keeping patients in their own homes longer and providing private care and/or home support,” said Higgins, who described the nursing home problem as out of control in this province.

All should be evaluated to see how many could be cared for at home with private care/home support and visits from Extra Mural, said Higgins.

“If one has the means to pay for help at home, then engage a private care or home support worker. Nursing care can be provided by Extra Mural nurses in consultation with the family doctor.

“If one needs assistance, the same structure that exists for nursing home admission should prevail. One must submit two years of the latest income tax return and receive help on a sliding scale.”

Higgins said all political parties should agree and support the idea of using the money from Ottawa to enable more New Brunswick citizens, when struck with a chronic illness, to remain in their own homes.

“The government should inform the private care and home support workers and the Extra Mural nurses of this new approach so they can prepare to gear up to meet the increasing demands of their services.

“Also, the government should educate the public about this new approach. Tell the public that Grandma can now stay at home with her loved ones when she develops a chronic illness and the nursing care and private care workers will help with the heavy lifting and, if the family cannot pay, Big Brother will help.”

This $230 million from the federal government is a huge breakthrough, said Higgins, and it changes the ball game. New Brunswick can now hire and train more help for nursing and private care/home support as chronic patients leave the hospitals to go back to their own homes.

“Private care workers can also anticipate increased demand. Of interest, if half the grant is used for home care and the grant is for 10 years – $11.5 million at $20 an hour will provide 575,000 hours of home care per year. This could empty a lot of hospital beds as well as make new and more jobs in New Brunswick.”