Health Scan – Atlantic Canada and Manitoba – February 23, 2024

A provincial health scan for Atlantic Canada and Manitoba for the week of February 17 - 23, 2024. Written by Wes McLean.

Manitoba

  • The Manitoba government is taking action to unfreeze funding for Manitoba Possible’s wheelchair repair program and providing more than $288,000 to hire more repair technicians, Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine, minister responsible for accessibility, and Health, Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Uzoma Asagwara announced today. 
  • The Health Transformation Department at the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) is working in collaboration with partners to bring more comprehensive health services closer to home for citizens of Lake Manitoba First Nation by providing access to lab services in the nation for the first time. The Manitoba government is providing services including mentoring and lab equipment. 
  • A person who was being treated at Manitoba’s largest hospital on Thursday is facing charges after a security guard was stabbed. Winnipeg police confirm the person is facing charges of assault with a weapon after stabbing the guard at Health Sciences Centre. “Our violence is through the roof, it happens daily, whether it’s verbal abuse … physical abuse of staff or it’s threats of violence,” said a hospital staff member, who spoke with CBC News on condition of anonymity due to fear of job repercussions.
  • Doctors in Manitoba are urging people to protect themselves against measles as health officials across the country warn a rise in cases in Europe and elsewhere could spell a potential outbreak here. The World Health Organization is warning there were 42,200 measles cases in Europe last year — more than 40 times the 941 cases in 2022. Health officials elsewhere in Canada have told CBC News it’s only a matter of time before cases start rising in this country.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • The Registered Nurses’ Union, and the Official Opposition are calling on the Auditor General to review travel nursing contracts with the province, following a Globe and Mail investigative story. The report found that Newfoundland and Labrador spent $35.6 million dollars on travel nurses from April to August last year, up from an average of $1 million dollars annually before the pandemic. Also, it raised questions on governments’ dealings with Canadian Health Labs, a private staffing company that recruited nurses from outside the province to help staff healthcare facilities in this province. Now, Health Minister Tom Osborne says, he has asked for more information from the health authority.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador’s Health Minister Tom Osborne said Tuesday that travel nurses are a “necessary evil,” one that was especially necessary to keep emergency departments and other services open during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, as revealed in a recent Globe and Mail report, spending $35.6 million on nurses from private agencies within months, as well as shelling out cash for travel nurses’ training, cable bills, and a variety of other expenses, is “obviously concerning,” he said. The contracts with private nursing agencies such as Canadian Health Labs — a private, Toronto-based company — were entered into by the four regional health authorities, said Osborne, which are now amalgamated into N.L. Health Services.
  • Enhancements to cardiac and stroke care are being expanded across the province to support better patient outcomes. The enhancements and expansion are part of the Provincial Government’s transformation of cardiovascular and stroke care in Newfoundland and Labrador. The successful enhancements include:
    • The introduction of a surgical procedure, endovascular thrombectomy (EVT), where blood clots causing stroke are removed from clinically eligible patients. This enhancement has led to improved stroke outcomes and an approximate 50 percent reduction in patients’ length of hospital stays.
    • Increased use of clot-busting drugs called thrombolytics for strokes, which has increased from 10 percent in 2018 to almost 20 percent, the national standard, in 2023.
    • The expanded use of virtual heart failure management, where patients interact with a cardiology team specializing in heart failure to become stabilized on their medications through virtual appointments within nine weeks, rather than the six-to-12-month timeframe of traditional in-person appointments.

Nova Scotia

  • Nova Scotia is attracting newcomers in sectors with the most need, including healthcare and the skilled trades, and investing to help them settle and stay. In 2023, 763 healthcare professionals and 244 construction professionals were among the 6,830 applicants approved through immigration programs for the year. This represents an 88.9 percent increase in healthcare professionals and an 85.8 percent increase in construction professionals compared with 2022.
  • Nova Scotians can now see updated healthcare data on the Action for Health website. The latest data – from the third quarter of 2023-24, October 1 to December 31 – shows positive results and trends in some areas. The government is making progress on each of the six broad solutions to improve healthcare in Nova Scotia. All actions outlined in the strategic plan are now underway and their status has been updated. Six actions were completed this quarter, including:
    • advancing a targeted immigration strategy to support recruitment efforts in continuing care
    • establishing a health equity partnership to understand and address equity issues in the system
    • refocusing efforts on strategies to help patients return home with more support rather than wait in the hospital for admission to long-term care.
  • More seniors in the Yarmouth area will have access to long-term care as 21 single rooms at the assisted living complex Yarmouth Heights are converted to licensed long-term care spaces. Residents will begin moving into the new spaces next week. The Province is working with facility owner and operator GEM Health Care Group to make upgrades to the first floor of Yarmouth Heights. This includes adding new beds, ceiling lifts, accessible dining room tables and a medication room, as well as making other upgrades to meet nursing home licensing requirements.
  • Nova Scotians who live in Yarmouth, Shelburne and Digby counties will have better access to emergency healthcare with the expansion of the Yarmouth Regional Hospital emergency department. Colton LeBlanc, Minister of Service Nova Scotia and MLA for Argyle, on behalf of Public Works Minister Kim Masland, announced today, February 23, that the construction tender will be issued this spring.
  • The Province is investing in a new state-of-the-art nurse training facility at Acadia University that will help educate more of these much-needed healthcare professionals. The facility is expected to be open for the 2026-27 academic year and will allow Acadia to obtain accreditation for a standalone nursing program. The university successfully launched a satellite nursing program in partnership with Cape Breton University last year.
  • Opposition leaders say the Nova Scotia government has “set the political culture back” decades through the use of untendered contracts and a lack of transparency in its work to address problems in the healthcare system. The minister responsible says he’s committed to tightening up the process — while making no apologies for trying to go faster to improve health care. Auditor General Kim Adair released a report earlier this month flagging the “highly unusual transaction” the government used to purchase an unfinished hotel for the purpose of converting it into a patient-care facility.

New Brunswick

  • The severe staffing shortage that prompted Vitalité Health Network to pay a private agency about $158 million to hire out-of-province nurses in 2022 is just as bad now as it was then, according to the CEO. Dr. France Desrosiers commented in a written statement issued Friday — her second statement this week amid criticism of the high cost to taxpayers for these so-called travel nurses and the fact they’re paid roughly six times what New Brunswick nurses earn. “The gradual reduction in agency services has been planned and has begun, but it would be impossible to do without them completely right now, given the immediate needs that are still as great as they were in 2022,” she said.
  • The New Brunswick government is defending the use of travel nurses in the face of criticism over the high cost to taxpayers. Meanwhile, Vitalité, the regional health authority that has made the most use of the private agency nurses, acknowledged in a statement to CBC News that “the billing level for these services deserves questioning.” “These costs represent a significant financial burden for our citizens,” CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said in an email. “They also create inequality between network healthcare workers and agency staff. “However, the decision was unavoidable in the short term,” she said, citing staffing shortages created by departures and early retirements from 2020 to 2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A judge ruled Thursday that Horizon Health Network will pay $80,000 to the New Brunswick Construction Safety Association after an investigation revealed the potential exposure of some Fredericton hospital employees to asbestos over nearly five years. The money will go to a tool to help the construction industry deal with silica dust, which has overtaken asbestos as an occupational hazard of most concern, according to the association. The use of asbestos in construction is no longer allowed in Canada.

Prince Edward Island

  • The Mental Health and Addictions Emergency Department will open next week to Islanders needing urgent mental health, addiction and substance use care and clinical support in times of crisis. The new $9.5 million facility is the first of its kind in the province and in Atlantic Canada. With a safe and welcoming patient-centred environment, it provides people who are experiencing a mental health, addiction and/or substance use crisis with 24/7 access. The department is staffed by a multi-disciplinary team of trained health care providers who will assess, stabilize, and manage urgent care needs. 
  • Earlier this week, Minister of Health and Wellness Mark McLane, in consultation with the Health PEI Board of Directors, announced that Health PEI will soon have a new Chief Executive Officer. Melanie Fraser, an accomplished senior Public Sector executive with 20+ years of experience building, leading and enhancing organizations and systems, has accepted the position and will assume the role next month. Throughout Melanie’s career with the public service, she has led large organizations and systems to deliver results for the benefit of the public.

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