Premier advises against super board for province's health-care system

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Dexter speaks during nurses union AGM in Truro

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter was in Truro on Tuesday to address a delegation of more than 235 nurses attending the 37th annual general meeting of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union. Dexter spoke in part against the merits of one "super board" to run the province's health-care system.

TRURO - Switching to a "super board" system to administer Nova Scotia's health care, as opposed to district health authorities, would be "disastrous" Premier Darrell Dexter said Tuesday.

Speaking to the annual general conference of

the Nova Scotia Nurses Union in Truro, the premier suggested the topic will be a hotly contested issue in the next provincial election but he strongly advised it is not a path the province should follow.

"I think it is going to be a critical election issue, mainly because it clearly defines the differences between the Liberals and the Conservatives and us, which is that we are focused on patient care. We are focused on how you get the best possible service to citizens and they are focused on creating yet a bigger bureaucracy in health care."

Nova Scotia's health services are currently delivered by nine district health authorities and the IWK in Halifax, which are responsible for delivering health-care services to residents as well as being responsible for all hospitals, community health services, mental health services and public health programs in their districts.

Conversely, he said, the Liberal and Conservative parties believe the province should have one "super board" to oversee all districts, plus another for the IWK, as a way to eliminate top-level administrators and reduce costs.

But Dexter said one only has to look at Alberta, which has made such a switch, as an example that such boards do not work, especially given that that province's health-care budget increased by $100 million under such a system.

"Now health authorities are far from perfect. But a super board is a proven failure in places like Alberta," Dexter said.

Speaking to reporters following his speech, the premier pressed his point even further.

"I mean, if you look at the idea of super boards they are a disaster," he said. "I want you to think about how well received, having every health-care decision in the province made in Halifax, will be in Truro, or in Cape Breton or in Yarmouth, because that means that their voices are going to be taken out of health care altogether."

And Dexter said the super board model introduces other issues that Nova Scotia doesn't need.

"For working people it means union runoffs, it means that the security provisions of their collective agreements will be affected," he said. "In fact, it means that there will be new collective bargaining that will have to deal with things like seniority, many of the things that have already been put in place. It means chaos in the health-care system and it means, I think, a more divisive and unstable labour environment for all of our citizens."

Union president Janet Hazelton essentially agreed with the premier's position. After 25 years of nursing, Hazelton said she has seen the system restructured three times without receiving noticeable benefits.

"We spend a whole lot of time and energy focusing on restructuring instead of focusing on getting patients healthy and not having them access our system," she said. "And it never appears to get the savings that they say they are going to get."

Ultimately, she suggested, patients and taxpayers would be better served if the focus could be directed on improving frontline health care.

"We don't have the luxury of time to restructure the whole system," Hazelton said. "A couple of administrators, really? With a budget as big as theirs (health care authorities) are."

Dexter's address to the nursing audience carried the tone of a campaign speech as he weighed his government's successes with labour groups and the fact that there have been no wage cuts or staff rollbacks within the health-care system.

When asked outside the conference room when the next election might occur, he responded by saying that decision has not yet been made, only that it will be between now and June of next year.


Organizations: Nova Scotia Nurses Union, Conservatives

Geographic location: Truro, Nova Scotia, Halifax Alberta Cape Breton Yarmouth

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