Health Scan – Atlantic Canada and Manitoba – March 8, 2024

A provincial health scan for Atlantic Canada and Manitoba from March 1- 8, 2024. Written by Wes McLean.

Manitoba

  • The Manitoba government is introducing amendments to the Employment Standards Code that would extend long-term leave for serious injury or illness to 27 weeks, aligning with the federal employment insurance (EI) benefit period, Labour and Immigration Minister Malaya Marcelino announced earlier this week. In 2022, the federal government made changes to EI and employment standards legislation as part of a broader commitment to reform Canada’s EI program. These changes increased EI sickness benefits to 26 from 15 weeks and increased the maximum length of unpaid medical leave available to federally regulated employees to 27 from 17 weeks under the Canada Labour Code. As a result, Manitoba’s legislation did not align with the new federal changes, meaning Manitobans were not able to access the full benefits available to them. 
  • The Manitoba government is introducing legislation that would establish protected access zones outside clinics and facilities that provide abortion services and at service providers’ residences and offices, Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine, minister responsible for women and gender equity, and Health, Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Uzoma Asagwara announced earlier this week. The safe access to abortion services act would prohibit protests, demonstrations or picketing within buffer zones to protect patients and providers against harassment and intimidation, noted Fontaine.
  • A northern Manitoba First Nation declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon, owing to a nursing shortage officials in the community described as a crisis. Pimicikamak Cree Nation — also known as Cross Lake — is supposed to have at least 13 nurses working in its nursing station, but as of Friday, there were only four. That means the staff who are available are experiencing burnout and a lack of sleep, while some patients are being turned away as the facility operates on an emergencies-only basis, a health official said.
  • Manitobans who are booking flights might also want to consider booking an appointment with their doctor to see if they need a measles vaccine, the province says. Though no cases of measles have been confirmed in Manitoba, the province’s chief public health officer says travellers should make sure they’re up to date on their measles vaccinations before going to any international destinations, as measles cases continue to rise worldwide.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Opposition parties continued to needle the Liberal government over the long-term storage of bodies at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s during the question period at the House of Assembly on Thursday. A day ago, a CBC News report revealed that there are nearly 30 bodies stored in freezer units in an alleyway on hospital property, most of which are going unclaimed due to the rising cost of living and the cost of funeral service fees. Those bodies are stored indefinitely. Health Minister Tom Osborne said he learned of the freezers Wednesday morning from the CBC’s reporting. 
  • Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister says contracts employing agency nurses are approved and handled by the province’s health authority, but the Official Opposition says documents obtained by the party say otherwise. Speaking in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Tony Wakeham questioned Health Minister Tom Osborne on several occasions about a contract given to Canadian Health Labs to employ agency nurses in western Newfoundland, and the government’s spending of tens of millions of dollars on agency nurses as reported in the Globe and Mail.
  • If he’s not given a discharge on an assault charge, Dr. Louis Bourget says his career is over. The Nova Scotia-based oral surgeon, who operates out of Gander one week every month, was charged with assault after he permitted a correctional officer to extract an inmate’s teeth in October 2020. The incident was recorded by another correctional officer on his phone. In Gander court on Tuesday, 62-year-old Bourget, who pleaded guilty to the charge, took the stand for sentencing submissions. 

Nova Scotia

  • The group that represents Nova Scotia’s midwives say demand for their services has been on the rise for years, but that hasn’t been reflected in provincial funding. The province currently funds 16 midwife positions at three sites in Nova Scotia — in Halifax, Lunenburg and Antigonish. But Jessica Thorpe, president of the Association of Nova Scotia Midwives, says it’s not enough to handle the number of expecting parents looking for support. Thorpe said her association was hopeful there would be an increase in midwifery funding in the latest budget — given the $7.3 billion allocated to health care — but that was not the case.
  • A new website, monthly events and radio promotions about community activities are some of the proposed projects to welcome healthcare workers and their families to Pictou County. The projects are designed to address barriers and foster a sense of community. Two organizations that focus on team building and newcomer settlement projects will receive funding for those activities and more through the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment (OHPR) Community Fund.
  • A calendar of networking and social events, a spouses’ social club and free recreation days are among the projects welcoming new healthcare workers and their families to Cape Breton. Two organizations focused on supporting newcomers will receive funding through the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment (OHPR) Community Fund.
  • The government is expanding its physician incentive programs to encourage more doctors to choose to practise in Nova Scotia. Financial incentives for doctors are now available in all areas of the province, including Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) in the central health zone. Family physicians and specialists who want to establish full-time practices in the Central Zone can earn up to $75,000 in incentives – $25,000 when they sign the agreement and $10,000 per year for the next five years. These payments will be made at the end of each year after contract deliverables are met.
  • A podcast, magazine and an original TV series are among several new projects that will help welcome and support healthcare workers from different cultural backgrounds as they settle in Nova Scotia communities this year. Five organizations that focus on supporting diverse healthcare workers will receive funding for those projects and more through the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment (OHPR) Community Fund.
  • Nova Scotia is partnering with Novo Nordisk Canada Inc. to create the Nova Scotia Lighthouse project, an initiative that will address childhood obesity and chronic disease in the province. The Nova Scotia Lighthouse project will bring together healthcare, academic and economic leaders to identify barriers and challenges that contribute to poor health outcomes. Businesses, academia and community organizations will be invited to submit proposals to address them. Nova Scotia is the first jurisdiction in the world to deliver this initiative outside of Denmark.
  • Nova Scotians will now have better access to mental health, wellness and addiction support in their communities. The government is providing one-time funding of $1 million to the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s Community Grant Program, which funds projects by charities, community groups and organizations.

New Brunswick

  • The Town of Riverview has been designated as the province’s 15th age-friendly community. “Age-friendly communities play an integral role in ensuring New Brunswick seniors age in comfort and with dignity in their own communities,” said Health Minister Bruce Fitch. “I am pleased to see another community join this important network,” Fitch spoke on behalf of Kathy Bockus, the minister responsible for seniors. The recognition program, administered by the Department of Social Development, encourages communities to take sustainable action to become welcoming places for all ages and to encourage healthy aging and wellness.
  • Auditor General Paul Martin has announced that his office is undertaking an independent audit of the management of contracts pertaining to travel nurses. Those being audited include Vitalité and Horizon health networks, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Development. The audit will consider issues related to procurement, oversight, internal controls and overall value for money. Martin said, as with all performance audits within the Office of the Auditor General, the work will be conducted in accordance with established Canadian auditing standards. The work may include interviews with organization officials, review of documentation, and various forms of data collection and analysis.
  • For Michel Pelletier of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, an app that connects elders like him to health services has been life-changing. The 61-year-old says a recent six-hour drive to Nova Scotia for a cataract appointment would have been out of the question without the Madawaska Elder Initiative. The app connects Pelletier and 42 other elders in his community with a driver who takes them to all kinds of healthcare appointments and also offers translation help and support at appointments if needed. “My son is working, my daughter is working,” Pelletier said. “They can’t just leave their job and say, ‘Hey, I gotta bring my dad to some places.'”
  • The Higgs government is reacting coolly to Ottawa’s invitation to join a national pharmacare program. The federal government said last week it hoped to have some provinces sign on to the plan, which will initially cover diabetes medication and devices as well as contraceptives, by the end of the year. But a spokesperson for the New Brunswick Health Department says many of the details haven’t been shared yet and there have only been “preliminary discussions” so far.
  • The New Brunswick Medical Society has not seen the province’s primary health-care transformation strategy or the 18-month action plan, quietly launched about six months ago, according to the president. “The NBMS is not aware of any comprehensive provincial strategy related to primary health care,” said Dr. Paula Keating.

Prince Edward Island

  • Prince Edward Island is now short another family doctor, the province’s health agency confirmed Thursday. Dr. Harold Molyneaux has taken an immediate leave due to medical reasons, Health P.E.I. said in a statement. As a result his Summerside clinic, which served around 2,500 patients, will close immediately. The health agency said any patients impacted by the closure will be mailed information within the next several days with instructions on how to access care, including virtual care.
  • The group representing about 400 physicians and medical learners on P.E.I. is recommending a pause on the medical school at the University of Prince Edward Island until specific impacts on the healthcare system can be addressed. Dr. Krista Cassell said it’s not that the Medical Society of P.E.I. (MSPEI) is against the school, but it has ongoing concerns about the timeline. “The needs are quite significant,” Cassell, the group’s president, said in an interview with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin.

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