Health Minister Michelle Thompson says it’s “very unfortunate” her department was unable to reach an agreement with four doctors who will close their family medicine practice in Halifax this August. 

The South End Family Practice sees about 4,100 patients and had requested an additional doctor to help out. Thompson says all four physicians will remain involved in the health care system in some capacity, including seeing patients virtually. 

“We were not able to reach an agreement over the last number of months with that clinic,” Thompson told reporters following a cabinet meeting yesterday. “There were some issues around how they are supported in terms of overhead; they were also looking for additional resources and its my understanding that those additional resources would not result in increased access for patients. We are happy these doctors have continued to stay in the province and provide care throughout our health system.”

Should the government have done more?

“Absolutely the province should have done everything within its power to keep that clinic open,” said NDP leader Claudia Chender. “We hear about recruitment but we don’t hear enough about retention. So I think its an indictment of the government that at this moment, we have four more family doctors leaving and another 4,000 patients who will soon be without a family doctor.”

Premier Tim Houston was in Los Angeles yesterday helping Screen Nova Scotia promote the province as a centre for film and TV production so Thompson took most of the tough questions. 

Alicia Draus from Global News* asked the Thompson to comment on the death of a 32-year-old woman whose parents claim she died of hypothermia in November after being refused treatment at a mental health clinic and an Emergency Department. Thompson extended her condolences to the family. 

 “We need to understand what happened and use that understanding to do a better job in the future,” said Thompson. 

Nova Scotia Health is conducting a review around the circumstances of the patient death and will share its findings with the family.

But should people be dying because they didn’t get access to care, minister?, CTV News persisted.

“I think that’s a very cruel question,” replied Thompson. “We are working very hard to provide access to care to anyone who needs it. I don’t want to see anybody that doesn’t have access to care that results in a tragic outcome.”

Nova Scotians will soon have another form of access to health care. A Chester businessman named Randy Stevens is opening a private clinic staffed by two nurse practitioners on Young Street in the trendy Hydrostone neighbourhood of Halifax. Bluenose Health will charge patients a monthly subscription fee (adult subscriptions cost $27.50 plus HST, kids are $9.50 each plus HST) that will provide access to visits with a nurse. 

According to Thompson, the new clinic does not violate provisions of the Canada Health Act and Thompson chose her words carefully when asked if this private clinic will make it more difficult to compete for health care workers. 

“I’m very focussed on recruiting and retaining staff in my system, the public system,” replied Thompson. “So I have to look at the levers I have. Making sure we have competitive salaries and finding a good work-life balance. I have to focus on supporting and maintaining the healthcare system in front of me and that’s my task.”

Contract negotiations have begun with Nova Scotia nurses and bargaining dates continue into June.

More, faster or just more money?

In mid-December, the Houston government announced it would proceed with a multi-year, multi-billion dollar investment to build a new Halifax Infirmary, three new Emergency departments and two new buildings to move patients currently waiting in hospital beds for a nursing home bed or transition to a place in the community. 

Houston said the growing population and crumbling Victoria General meant the province could no longer delay these expenditures and the announcement was promoted as “more health care, faster.”

In February, the province paid $34.4 million to Crestco Development for a 110-room partially completed hotel at 21 Hogan Court in Bedford. It was arguably the priciest hotel purchased in Metro. 

The province says it plans to renovate the building so it can provide transition care for those patients taking up valuable real estate in hospitals. CBC News has reported the province had received a consultant’s report that said the building was unsuitable for conversion to house people with medical needs. 

Yesterday, reporters asked Colton LeBlanc, the minister responsible for health care infrastructure and Service Nova Scotia, if Nova Scotians “got hosed” by paying too much.

“No,” replied LeBlanc bluntly, “we didn’t get hosed. We need to do things differently and this is one piece of the puzzle…the reason we bought a building under construction was to shave off time.”

The government did not tender its need for a building nor did it put out an RFP for an architect or a project manager to oversee what will clearly be a major renovation. 

LeBlanc said the government has hired as its architect Chamberlain Architectural Services, the architectural firm that designed the hotel for the former owner. Under the same “alternative procurement” pathway that does not require a competitive bidding process, the government has hired Lindsay Construction to manage the renovation. LeBlanc defended that decision on the basis of requiring both “speed and expertise” and said work will be starting next week.

A white man in a blue suit standing next to Nova Scotian and Acadian flags.
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill speaks to reporters on Thursday, March 2, 2023. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

Liberal leader Zach Churchill said “obviously there are a lot of question marks around this purchase. The government is spending a lot more money on health care and yet the situation is getting worse. This is another example of the government being very knee jerk and spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars when the outcomes look questionable at best.”

NDP leader Claudia Chender said the decision to spend tens of millions on a building that may or may not be suitable is “mystifying” and would be a good subject for the provincial auditor-general to examine.

Speaking of money…

Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman speaks with reporters on March 2, 2023. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman has not made any formal request to Ottawa to increase the amount of quarterly rebate cheques Nova Scotians will receive when the federal carbon tax takes effect this July. 

Last fall, when Houston was crusading against the carbon tax, the government suggested the tax would cost Nova Scotians between $1,500 and $3,100 a year by 2030. 

An independent analysis done by Dalhousie University engineering professor Larry Hughes found that the quarterly carbon rebate paid by Ottawa to four other provinces wouldn’t be enough to cover Nova Scotians families that heat their home with electricity (going up 7% this month) and drive more than one vehicle (gasoline will go up 14 cents a litre).

In Saskatchewan, a province that also lacks access to renewable resources such as hydro, the federal carbon tax rebate called the “climate action incentive payment” totals $1,360 a year for a family of four. That’s the highest rebate received by any province. 

Back in September, Hughes shared his data with the province of Nova Scotia and suggested the government open negotiations with Ottawa to try and increase the size of the carbon tax rebate.

Halman told the Examiner yesterday efforts by provincial government officials to find out what calculations the federal government used to determine the size of the Nova Scotia rebate were met with silence. Halman indicated neither he nor his officials have made any further inquiries. 

With that homework incomplete, perhaps citizens will not be shocked to learn the province of Nova Scotia has yet to make any formal request to Ottawa to increase the quarterly rebate, which was estimated to be in the range of $1,000 a year for a family of four.

“I defer to the federal government,” said Halman. “I encourage residents of Nova Scotia to reach out to their Member of Parliament to get clarification on on the structure of the federal carbon tax. This is a federal tax. I leave it to them to explain it to Nova Scotians. We recognize how challenging affordability issues are. That’s why our government has put up $100 million for the heating assistance rebate and $140 million to convert to heat pumps.”

Oh yeah, the provincial budget will be released on March 23, two days after the legislature resumes sitting. Finance Minister Allan MacMaster says we won’t see tax brackets indexed to inflation — even in the face of recent increases in inflation — because the province is spending most of its money “to fix health care.”

Nova Scotians have been paying more income tax than most other Canadians for the past 20 years because our tax brackets have not been adjusted for inflation. For low-income earners that means a pay raise or increase to benefits such as GST or CPP can mean having to pay more in income tax.

* The original story incorrectly stated that a reporter from CTV asked this question to Minister Michelle Thompson. We apologize for the error.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Michelle Thompsons’s assertion there’s nothing she can do about the Bluenose Health Clinic is ridiculous. If the services the Nurse Practitioners are providing were “insured services” for purposes of the Canada Health Act (something it is entirely within the Province’s power to determine), the new clinic wouldn’t be legally permitted to charge fees to access them. The reality is that those with the means to pay will now have a way of circumventing long wait times by paying to see a NP, who can then refer them for follow-up tests and specialist services. It’s another step towards building a “for profit” healthcare system that benefits the government’s friends. I suspect those docs who are abandoning the clinic in the south end will end up employed in the “for profit” sector as well.