The stories from patients and healthcare workers within the province’s emergency rooms are scary. People waiting for countless hours, in hallways or worse, in gross conditions, to receive care from professionals under enormous strain. New Brunswickers deserve better than Higgs’ hallway healthcare.
Unfortunately, these accounts are not surprising. As New Brunswickers, we’ve been forced to expect delays in accessing emergency and primary care. While the Higgs government continues to pass the buck and minimize the issue as one facing every province, the situation in New Brunswick continues to worsen. The lack of action, leadership, and basic communication is unacceptable. New Brunswickers deserve to hear accountability and see action now.
Emergency room wait times, shortages of healthcare professionals, and the clogging of our hospitals are not new or unique problems – this is true. However, this does not negate the need for crisis management solutions and short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans.
New Brunswickers deserve to hear from Public Health and the Premier. The onus should not be on essential workers, patients, and healthcare professionals to blow the whistle on the dire situations they are facing. Proactively communicating with the public about their urgent care options and what they can do to stop the spread of airborne illness like wearing N95 masks and staying home when sick, is a simple and effective way to get ahead of the issue, build trust, and show leadership.
Giving New Brunswickers nothing but advice not to go to their local hospital is unacceptable. Not long ago the Department of Health provided daily instructions on how to navigate through a pandemic. Regular and timely communications to reflect the current situation with guidance on how to access healthcare at peak times, like the holidays, would go a long way to reduce the fear, stress, and confusion that people are experiencing today. This is also crucial given the extent to which our healthcare system has changed over the last few years. Knowing what you can see a pharmacist for or how to get an appointment at an urgent care clinic would really help.
Our healthcare system is still facing drastic shortages, especially in the urgent care sector. To start fixing this, the government should temporarily approve more funded ER hours, and offer immediate retention bonuses to critical health professionals. We are in a crisis and this would be a quick and effective way to stop some of the bleeding. Retention, however, has to be paired with an aggressive recruitment effort. Practice models and tools need to be modern and relevant, and workers need to feel respected and heard – Premier Higgs and his government have continuously shown disrespect towards our healthcare workers. We have to take care of the people who take care of us and our families.
During the pandemic, government departments and the RHAs came together and provided solutions to protect our hospitals and our healthcare professionals. One example of this was the discharge system. During COVID there was a sense of urgency, and because of it multiple departments worked closely together to ensure that when a patient was ready to leave the hospital, it would happen efficiently so the next patient would have a bed. That urgency is gone and the committee addressing it has been silent.
New Brunswickers show up at the ER because they have nowhere else to go. The Higgs government needs to finally act on its long-standing promises to set up collaborative community clinics that would give people a health care home. Additionally they need to fix the after-hours rates to improve access to evening and weekend care.
Finally, one of the main reasons our hospitals and emergency rooms are over capacity is because of the number of elderly patients waiting for long-term care placements. There are more seniors living in the hospital than ever before. Again, this is not a new issue. However, that makes the lack of progress even more frustrating. New Brunswick needs more long-term care workers and more long-term care homes.
The departments of Social Development and Health need to come together and provide options for patients and their families. Hospitals can no longer be the only option. Whether it’s providing more caregiver benefits for families to keep healthy family members at home while they await placement, or expanded homecare or extra-mural solutions, New Brunswickers deserve options other than hospitals. The care of our elders should be how we are judged as a society.
The stories are heartbreaking and horrifying. The time for action was yesterday. We simply have to do better than Higgs’ hallway healthcare.