Reaction varies to N.B.’s decision to continue Extra-Mural Program agreement

There’s mixed reaction to the New Brunswick government’s decision to continue its service agreement with Medavie Health Services to oversee the Extra-Mural Program.

“We as a coalition, and other groups, have worked very hard to convince the government this is the wrong way to go,” says Cecile Cassista, who is the executive director for the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights.

“We spent more than six months trying to convince the Liberal government that public funds should not be provided to private company,” she adds.

The New Brunswick Extra-Mural Program (EMP), known as the ‘hospital without walls’ is the provincial home healthcare program that provides healthcare services to New Brunswickers’ of all ages, in their personal residence, special care home or nursing home.

A performance analysis released by the provincial government says there have been improvements in a handful of categories, including referral to care time, ER visits per Extra-Mural patient served, and Extra-Mural patient satisfaction.

But Cassista says patients wouldn’t report dissatisfaction in fear of losing the service, and points to the number of patient visits which has decreased.

“We’re looking close to 7,000 people who never got the visits,” Cassista says. “That is alarming.”

Cecile Cassista, the executive director for the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, says she’ll continue to fight to have the services brought back to the public sector

The government says the visits by Extra-Mural Program professionals has decreased from 248,886 to 241,977 between October and March.

Meanwhile, the decision to continue the agreement is pleasing to Haley Flaro, the executive director of Ability New Brunswick.

“We’ve seen some marked improvements in several areas, (but) they still have some work to do in increasing success in timelieness of things like occupational therapy services,” she says.

But Flaro also questions the drop in number of visits.

Haley Flaro, the executive director of Ability New Brunswick, says she’s pleased the agreement has been continued

“I do have concerns because our trends are showing we have the oldest population in Canada, we have the second-highest rate of disability, so demographics are showing we should be seeing an increase in the number of people that we’re seeing,” Flaro said in a phone interview Thursday.

“That decrease may mean that people are seeing better quality assessment, it may also mean that (government is) still having a hard time recruiting people like occupational therapists in some regions, which I know to be true,” she adds.

Cassista, who has been tracking data since 2017, says the nursing home wait list has grown since Medavie has taken over management.

As of June 30, the wait list has 771 people, according to Bruce Macfarlane, a spokesperson with the Department of Health.

“If we had more money, and we do have more money because we are giving more money to Medavie to hire more nurses, more staff to be able to go visit people at home,” says Cassista. “We all know, when you’re at home, you recover much faster.”

She questions why the numbers were released when opposition parties would be on vacation.

Extra-Mural numbers provided by the interim analysis by the Department of Health

Health Minister Ted Flemming wasn’t available for an interview, but in a news release issued, the heath minister says based on the numbers in the initial analysis, the department is confident to continue the agreement, and will continue to monitor it.

“The Department of Social Development is dedicated to providing the best care to seniors in the province,” says Macfarlane in an emailed statement.

“This undertaking is a relatively new project with long-term goals. Results will continue to be monitored by the department as time goes on.”

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