P3 Miramichi nursing home

Posted on September 21, 2015
Filed Under Commentary, History & Culture, Miramichi | Leave a Comment

My wife and I attended the Thursday, September 17, meeting regarding the proposed public private partnership nursing home for Miramichi. I wanted to hear the case for both sides of the proposed shift from two public ownership homes to a privately owned, managed and operated home.
I think it is fair to say that most of the people there were already firmly opposed to the P3 approach. Perhaps 30 percent of the audience wore red shirts indicating they were home employees or members of the same union or other unions. They naturally don’t like the idea of losing their CUPE contract, their seniority rights and wage levels.
Of the rest, I surmise that some were Liberal party supporters like myself and others were supporters of the union position or, also like myself, wanted to know what the arguments are for both sides.
 My mother died in The Mount and I have been a Meals On Wheels driver for 32 or 33 years. Both of those experiences have left me with a strong feeling of respect, admiration and affection for the staff in both those homes although I should clarify that my observations of the Miramichi Senior Citizens Home is limited to the kitchen.
I thought it was courageous and proper of Lisa Harris and the Honourable Bill Fraser to call, organize and entice several cabinet ministers to the meeting knowing they would be subjected to considerable heat.
The audience, including the union members were vociferous and sometimes loud but, for the most part, willing to listen to the politicians and make their case politely. A few union leaders were more aggressive but that is to be expected. They are the guard dogs of worker rights and employed or elected to fight for them.
I thought Lisa Harris did a fine job of chairing the meeting and maintaining a balanced tone of respect for her constituents and keeping the meeting civil.
One thing that puzzles me is why politicians will sit and absorb abuse for not taking a public position on what they will decide without explaining why that is. Several union folk wanted them to hold up their hands to indicate whether they would support the union position or not.
The way government cabinets and, I think, union boards have their individual opinions but do not express them publicly. They thrash out their differences in their meetings and then present a united front to the public regardless of their personal feelings. You may not like that but it is a time-proven system for any kind of team, public or private, political, union, religious or sports.
I don’t know why ministers don’t just explain that simple fact even if it wouldn’t satisfy protesters. When they don’t, I think many people assume they are against those wanting their support and afraid to say so.
I thought that Honourable Cathy Rogers, Social Development minister, did explain that she has a thorough knowledge of and empathy for the poor and disadvantaged. When she said she had been a single mom raising kids for 17 years, I didn’t like it that some people booed. She was unfailingly patient and polite and I believe she has the credentials to look out for the public interest.
I truly don’t know whether she would side with the union in cabinet or not but I know she would be out of cabinet if she publicly declared that she opposed its collective decisions and policies.
The home workers’ opinions certainly dominated the meeting as expected but I think they should realize that they represented a quite small part of the total electorate.
As a result, their repeated insistence on having their jobs and contract guaranteed may seem a little presumptuous to the public at large. Most citizens and small business people have never had a guaranteed job. One union official said to the cabinet members, “If you don’t guarantee our jobs, we won’t guarantee yours”. As if anyone can or does guarantee an elected member’s or a cabinet member’s job. Sooner or later, almost all of them are rejected by the electorate whether they deserve it or not.
Even within the nursing home field, many or most workers don’t have the wages, benefits and job security the government run home workers have. That is not at all to say either group should not but just to point out that fact.
As I said above, I have a very good impression of the care givers and boards of the local homes. I remember when the late Donna McLean used to organize happy hours complete with entertainment and small cups of beer for Mount residents. The night my mother died, the staff were still coming in to moisten her lips and move her to prevent bed sores as if she were going to live another 10 years. Visiting there most days, I observed the kindness and patience and skill with which the staff dealt with some very difficult issues. Two different women who worked there have told me they sometimes crawled onto the beds and cuddled lonely old people when time or breaks permitted in the middle of the night. That’s probably against a rule but hearing it was very comforting. I hope I don’t get anyone into trouble. I remember being told years ago how the kitchen manager at the Miramichi home managed to work fresh lobster into the meal plan in the season.
Over the years, I’ve heard many more stories about how kind and helpful the workers have been to people’s parents.
Given some of the horror stories we hear about other homes in larger centres, I concluded that the Miramichi, and probably most of the Maritimes, has a special culture of care giving.
Of the audience comments I heard, the ones that really made an impression on me were the ones by Kim Savoie and Pat Diotte.
Ms Savoie’s heart was very much on her sleeve when she spoke to the need to move the nursing home residents’ “family,” meaning home staff, with them as they moved to completely new surroundings.
Mr. Diotte’s address reminded me that that culture also exists at the board level and has worked very well for local patients. I worry that a private corporation might not support lobster treats for patients.
The only beef I ever had with the Mount, when I had the newspapers, was when the Mount board resisted my plan for an article about how the patients there were given beer at the occasional Friday happy hour. The local beer reps were taking turns providing a case or two. I thought it was wonderful. The board was, I was told, afraid of an uproar if some people learned that the patients were being treated as grown up citizens and not children or prisoners.
I also understand the government’s position that private management can effect certain efficiencies. In our modern world, centralized management, purchasing, information management, marketing and systems are taking over in every field of endeavour. When we hear demands to maintain local jobs and local business contracts, we never hear anyone suggesting we pay more taxes. We want government to provide more services for less money. Like it or not, centralization offers economies of scale.
New Brunswick is as much a charity case in Canada as Greece has been in Europe. We have maintained a generally higher per capita number of public service jobs than the rest of Canada without paying the cost. To some extent that is natural. We have roughly the population of the City of Hamilton, Ontario, but we are spread out over a far larger area.
We have been Greece to Europe’s Germany. In our case, Germany has been Ontario and then the western provinces. Alberta is losing its ability and inclination to continue that.
I also like Honourable Cathy Rogers point that the P3 approach will offer local workers opportunities they have never had before. Miramichiers have, over the years, found their personal advancement by leaving. Employees of a national or international senior care home here would provide stepping stones to advancement. From what I know of the local workers, I fully expect they would be in very high demand. Not all of them are saints. Some of them should not have guaranteed job security. The ones who do deserve advancement opportunities which often are not available in a shrinking local economy.
Minister Rogers also pointed out a fact that got little recognition at the meeting. The aging baby boom demographic is temporary. In 25 years, provincial needs may be very different. The government could walk away from an obsolete facility. The Morrissy Bridge is a prime example of how difficult it is for government to dispose of obsolete or surplus assets.
Many locals probably do not realize that the Rodd Miramchi does not own the building it occupies. The hotel, which includes government offices, and adjacent seniors’ residence is owned by another private firm. The Rodd corporation manages it.
I am very sympathetic to the challenges facing any New Brunswick government. With a shrinking, aging population and fewer babies per capita being born, providing modern services and facilities on shrinking income looks like an impossible task to me. I almost question the sanity of anyone who wants to try. It reminds me of the variation on an old saying to, “If you can keep your head, when all around you are losing theirs, the odds are you don’t really understand the situation”.
Finally, it could be possible for a local co-operative of some sort to submit a proposal to own, manage and operate the seniors project. It wouldn’t be easy to compete with international conglomerates but having a contract could be a significant part of a business plan that would qualify for a bank loan. Having committed tenants is the most important criterion for the development of every mall that is built. Perhaps there is even a development corporation out there somewhere that would like to work with local management. Home Hardware and some other national chains work like that.
When all is said and done, I sincerely hope that the local management and the local staff who seem to have performed very well here over the years can be preserved. My personal experience with them has been remarkably positive.


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