In a budget heavy on health care spending, at least two groups were not pleased Tuesday with the provincial government.
Health care will cost the province $3 billion this fiscal year, or 38.5 per cent of the budget. In fiscal 2010-11, the province spent nearly $2.9 billion.
Nurses’ union president Debbie Forward was scathing in her assessment of what the budget does for her membership.
“Overall the budget was very disappointing. We are coming with almost half a billion surplus. The focus on health care, from my perspective, was minimal. We did see some money for infrastructure, which obviously government has committed in the past number of years,” Forward said.
“Nurses weren’t even mentioned in the budget. There was money for retention of physicians, but nurses were ignored and I know nurses are going to be disappointed because we need to make sure we continue to make this an attractive place for nurses to work and this budget certainly didn’t go anywhere near that.”
Shaun Lane, president of the Personal Care Home Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, said his group was misled by the provincial government.
He said the $792,000 announced for the creation of a small personal care home subsidy program won’t do much for the industry.
“I think we just got a 12-13 cent an hour raise — not sufficient,” Lane said.
“We’ve got some (personal care) home owners this week who are going to be very disappointed. Some of them will have to seriously consider closing after this budget.”
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Lane said the government regulates the homes, legislates the wages they have to pay and controls the fees they charge, but is doing little to help the homes stay afloat.
His group represents 60 of the 97 personal care homes on the island portion of the province.
“We recently sent an email to the government that nearly 20 per cent of personal care homes on the island are on the verge of closing due to lack of government funding and just trying to keep up with government's legislated expenses,” Lane said.
But if the health portion of the budget had its detractors, it also had its defenders.
Vickie Kaminski, CEO of Eastern Health, the largest of the province's four health authorities, said the continued spending on capital infrastructure is great news. That spending includes $4.5 million to plan for replacing the Waterford Hospital.
“We’ve got long-term care in Carbonear, St. John’s, a commitment to recruitment and retention initiatives, which I think are going to be very good for us,” Kaminski said.
“We’ve just got to convince health care workers from across Canada to come in terms of retention and recruitment money.”
And while nurses may not think there’s anything there for them, Kaminski said spending to improve patient flow and efficiency will improve their work life.
“Nurses will find something in there, while it may not have a nursing tag on it right now,” she said.
Health Care Spending
Selected spending on health care announced or reannounced in Tuesday’s budget:
• $200.6 million for new and continuing construction and redevelopment.
• $1.8 million for the redevelopment of cardiac care services within Eastern Health.
• $1.8 million to create a new access and clinical efficiency division in the Department of Health and Community Services to provide leadership on reducing wait times.
• $1.1 million to implement the recommendations of the patient flow study conducted by Eastern Health.
• $700,000 to reduce the private vehicle expense threshold under the medical transportation assistance program (MTAP) from 5,000 kilometres to 2,500 kilometres for individuals travelling to access insured medical services retroactive to October 1, 2010. There will also be a prepayment of 50 per cent of the cost of economy airfare for medical travel for residents.
• Six new drug therapies added under the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program. The drugs haven’t been identified yet.
• $3.6 million for physicians who assume significant clinical and administrative leadership roles within the regional health authorities.
• $1.2 million to increase the funding for the medical/dental student and resident bursary program.
• $2.6 million to increase the current home support hourly subsidy rate by 25 cents.
Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador