Tough decisions inevitable in health

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If anything, this week’s auditor general’s report should provide important vindication for Nova Scotia’s health authorities. After all, as the province continues its campaign to bring its budget under control, it has placed those organizations that manage health care under the microscope.

When he released his report on Wednesday, Jacques Lapointe said the province is going to have to inject about $600 million into its hospitals over the next decade if it wishes to maintain the status quo. That’s money required to keep hospitals functioning and to cover the bare minimum of infrastructure requirements, including boilers, roofs and renovations.

The Cumberland Health Authority is lucky in that it has a relatively new hospital near Amherst. Being only a decade old, it’s not facing some of the problems being faced by others across the province. But, considering the age of hospitals in Pugwash, Parrsboro and Springhill, and the health centre in Advocate, the news isn’t all good.

It’s no secret that health care takes up a huge part of Nova Scotia’s budget, and despite every effort by the province, it’s continuing to escalate. The major part of that is dealing with an aging population and a high incidence of chronic illness brought on by living in rural communities, high smoking rates, sedentary lifestyles and poor diet.

Crumbling infrastructure is only going to add to this distress and could, eventually, force the province to make some tough decisions about the future of some smaller health care facilities across the province. No government is prepared to commit political suicide by announcing this hospital or that health-care centre is going to close, and we are not suggesting Health and Wellness adopt a slash and burn philosophy.

However, as it moves toward a new primary health care model with the establishment of collaborative emergency centres – including those in Parrsboro, Pugwash and Springhill – it’s going to have to find a way to ensure there is sufficient cash to maintain the facilities in which those initiatives are located.

If it can’t, it’s going to have to make some painful decisions that will not make it popular with the electorate.

Nova Scotia’s health authorities understand the pressures they are facing to keep aging buildings open. They requested nearly $110 million to complete repairs and renovations, but only got $12.5 million. They also asked for $37.9 million for new equipment, but only received $11.6 million.

It’s a tough situation to be in for a government that has promised to balance the budget by next year – the same time it will call a provincial election in hopes of staying in power for another four or five years.

Organizations: Cumberland Health Authority

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Pugwash, Parrsboro Amherst

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