During the last three and a half years, our government has been cleaning up the financial mess we inherited, a task that coincides with the most significant and prolonged economic downturn since the Great Depression. Our approach to this double jeopardy is to balance sensible spending restraint against the careful introduction of new priorities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the delivery of health services.
At the outset, I’d like to thank everyone at Annapolis Valley Health for their continuing efforts to make the best use of scarce resources. While it’s a fact that health spending is still increasing, it’s also true that the rate of growth has slowed. I know everyone at AVH has felt the impact of this adjustment and I’m grateful for the work that staff, physicians and management are doing within a context of change.
A key priority, of course, is to find better ways of getting health services to the people who need them as quickly as possible. Let me share a few examples of those innovations.
Since Dr. John Ross’ review of emergency services, we’ve opened Collaborative Emergency Centres (C.E.C.) in six small communities (one in Annapolis Royal), with plans to open all 14 that Dr. Ross recommended. Each C.E.C. has a core team of nurses, physicians and paramedics, who together provide same-day or next-day appointments and 24/7 access to emergency care. C.E.C.s have been enthusiastically welcomed and all but eliminated emergency closures in their communities. They’ve also caught the interested eye of several other provinces.
Working with other provinces allowed our government to negotiate better prices for generic drugs, which had doubled in cost over several years. Now they’re capped at 35 per cent of brand name equivalents and Nova Scotians, however they access prescriptions, are paying less for the medications they need.
Ambulance fees have also been reduced for citizens with low incomes, mobility challenges and for those who live in nursing homes. And, by the way, we’ve opened 936 new and 750 replacement nursing home beds and made changes that allow the partner of a nursing home resident to keep more (60 per cent) of a couple’s income. Critically important home care services, after years of neglect, are being improved and patients receiving palliative care at home are finally eligible for full, no cost drug coverage. We know most people want to be at home as long as possible.
I recently announced plans for a new 12-chair dialysis unit at Valley Regional Hospital which will replace, and double, the service that’s currently in Berwick, putting it in proximity to critical emergency, laboratory and professional resources.
Concerns about prescription drug abuse in the Valley led to an investment of $370,000 in a collaborative Opiate Treatment Program and encouraged Annapolis Valley Health to make innovative improvements to its Middleton-based detoxification and residential treatment services.
A new six-bed secure care unit for youth on remand for assessment has been established at Waterville’s Nova Scotia Youth Facility, providing better mental health care and support.
Another initiative, with Dalhousie University, sees ten young resident doctors per year gain experience in the Valley. Additionally, the Department of Health and Wellness added a nurse practitioner to Berwick’s Health Centre, and has been instrumental in finding a solution for patients in Canning, following Dr. Mary Joseph’s well-deserved retirement.
These few examples show how our government is delivering innovative health services while slowing increases in health care costs. I welcome your comments.