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Serving our aging communities is a growth industry

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

Oxford’s largest funeral home on Main Street recently purchased the house next door and then demolished it to make room for future growth and more client parking spaces.

This should come as no surprise given the rapid aging of our population. In Cumberland County in particular, we see a strong growth market for services catering to our aging communities, that will likely go on for many years.

The reasons are obvious. The Nova Scotia Department of Finance projects that in our region the population over 64 years of age will grow by 40 per cent in the period up to 2034, while the population under 20 years old will decline by 20 per cent. It’s a depressing prospect, but it’s what we face if we don’t get our total economic growth act together. But that’s a whole other topic.

As a result of our aging population, there are other prospects that private sector businesses are stepping up to, such as health care - capable retirement homes, hospices, etc.

Perhaps the largest market growth opportunity comes from the broad range of health-care services, currently provided by our publicly funded system. As a growth market it dwarfs in size the previous examples.

If this future goldmine were to be served by the private sector, not that I am advocating such a scenario, private sector investments would be flooding into our communities to take advantage of this “growth market.”

Where else is there an aging population that is growing so rapidly, with the health challenges that come with old age? Private sector doctors and other health-care professionals would be ready to fill vacancies and build a life here, just as funeral directors are making plans for their opportunities ahead.

This mythical private sector would find innovative ways to serve sparsely populated areas of our county more cost effectively, with first class facilities and technology. This is what they do well. Compensation and working conditions would be designed to attract sufficient health-care professionals, which is what we would deserve, just as much as the more populated areas in the province.

Of course, we rightly want to preserve our public sector health-care system in which everyone is taken care of in a timely fashion, at least in theory.

A key issue that affects us directly is the system hasn’t yet figured out how to adequately serve a growth market in more dispersed population areas…and I believe the solution lies in the current system re-imagining itself, utilizing the best of private and public sector models.

We are fortunate that Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, our local MLA, has a successful private sector background, creating several high-end businesses, is an executive MBA graduate, and a registered nurse very familiar with our local health-care shortcomings. As a result, she can properly evaluate ideas that adopt a practical public/private sector approach, without undermining the fundamental role of our public health service.

In particular, she will have her eye on the challenges faced by more sparsely populated communities such as Cumberland County. As an example, the planned online health records system to serve the whole province is something she will want to keep a close eye on.

We would not want a repeat of the “Phoenix” pay system experience where hundreds of thousands of federal employees are still not being correctly paid. It was intended to be a more efficient alternative to the many existing stand-alone pay systems in the federal government bureaucracy, with a “one size fits all” system, but it is failing miserably.

The problem is that large public sector bureaucracies tend to build structures in their own image, which is just what we don’t need in a multi-faceted province.

After two years of employee misery, the feds are now returning to a distributed system of “pods” in place of Phoenix, where each department gets to take care of its own unique pay system needs. A more sensible coupling of conscientious public servants and private sector technology.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.

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