Canada’s health minister is promoting the recent $1.2-billion bilateral funding agreement between Ottawa and British Columbia as an innovative approach to federal-provincial collaboration in tackling the nationwide health-care crisis.
Mark Holland stated that the agreement aims to address the obstacles encountered by Canada’s health-care system, rather than creating conflicts between provincial and federal authorities regarding their respective jurisdictions.
“I understand that considering jurisdiction and safeguarding it is important,” stated Holland during the agreement signing with B.C. at Vancouver General Hospital on Tuesday. “However, ultimately, the well-being of individuals should be prioritized, and it is our collective duty to collaborate and find solutions.”
“I have no intention of carrying a stick and displaying aggression towards provinces. My goal is to collaborate with provinces and territories, seeking mutually beneficial solutions. Therefore, this is not about encroaching on their jurisdiction, but rather about establishing partnerships.”
The agreement is part of a $196-billion, 10-year national health accord that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered provinces in February.
Premier Francois Legault of Quebec has been reluctant to accept the agreement, as he objects to the idea of being answerable to Ottawa for achieving specific health-care objectives outlined in the accord.
Holland stated that discussions with Quebec are still in progress.
Money to address nurse-patient ratios, doctor retention
The agreement with B.C., where the $1.2 billion in funding will be shifted to the province over the next three years, comes with an action plan covering the same period to develop “an innovative model of care” at 83 acute-care sites, mostly hospitals, that would allow nurses to spend more time with patients.
Adriane Gear, President of the BC Nurses Union, explained that the model mentioned in the action plan pertains to the implementation of minimum nurse-patient ratios. This requirement was included in the recently negotiated collective agreement between the union and the province in April.
B.C. became the first province to establish a model by promising $750 million to support the ratios in the deal.
Gear stated that currently, the staffing situation is problematic, with some units having less than 50% of the required staff. As a result, there are more patients than there are beds funded for their care.
Implementing minimum nurse-patient ratios will greatly contribute to ensuring that British Columbians receive safe patient care and obtain the necessary attention.
The additional federal funding will also be used to attract and keep doctors and other healthcare professionals. Furthermore, it would raise the number of Foundry centers in B.C. from 16 to 35, with the goal of enhancing mental health and well-being among young individuals.
B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said youth health and wellness is a crucial part of the province’s plan, since it addresses things like addictions before they can take root and become vastly more difficult and costly to treat.
“The efforts we are making upstream on child and youth mental health so that we can catch smaller problems before they get bigger, all of these are critical, critical projects that we have, and that we have committed to working on collectively,” Whiteside said at the news conference.
The government of British Columbia has also committed to collaborating with the First Nations Health Authority in order to enhance the availability of treatment and care that is culturally sensitive and takes into account the impact of trauma. Additionally, they will strive to improve access to services for mental health and addictions, as the ongoing overdose crisis persists without any sign of slowing down.
Although the other provinces have expressed their agreement in principle, British Columbia is the initial province to officially sign a customized funding agreement with the federal government within the framework of the accord.
The CMA is encouraging other provinces to promptly sign agreements.
The Canadian Medical Association has been advocating for governments to promptly sign the agreements in order to access essential health funding.
Dr. Kathleen Ross, the president of CMA, expressed that the agreement’s signing is a significant step forward.
“This is the first step in understanding how provinces and territories are going to deploy those dollars, and how we as citizens are going to be able to hold them accountable,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
Accessing data and information is a significant component of the agreement. Provinces and territories are required to enhance health-care data collection and digital medical records extensively in return for the provided funding.
In the case of British Columbia, the provincial government has consented to increasing the proportion of residents who can electronically access their health information to 75 percent. Additionally, they aim to ensure that half of all family health service providers in the province can securely exchange patient health information.
Every year, the progress made by the province towards different targets should be reported publicly.
Holland emphasized the importance of demonstrating progress in this agreement rather than simply discussing it. This involves presenting data and ensuring that patients experience improved care and outcomes.
Holland expressed that the intention of the support is to elevate the Canadian health-care system from being among the top performers globally to becoming the leading one.
The funding comes as British Columbia’s health-care system continues to experience strains due to staffing, patient demand and capacity challenges.
In July and August, the number of patients seeking emergency care in B.C. never fell below 9,000, which is typically the case. However, in September, the patient count rose to nearly 10,000, surpassing the usual numbers by approximately 700.
Meanwhile, the province remains in the throes of a drug crisis — more than 1,600 people have died of overdoses up to August of this year, putting British Columbia on pace for the deadliest year since a public health emergency was first declared in April 2016.
Gear characterized the provincial healthcare situation as “quite delicate” due to various stress factors. However, she expressed optimism about the potential positive effects, attributing it to the specific allocation of funds and the inclusion of built-in measures of responsibility in her union.
“Three years isn’t a long time,” she said of the time set out in the latest agreement. “But I do feel like there’s enough here, especially when you look at the work around minimum nurse-patient ratios, that hopefully British Columbians do see an impact.”