Pre-budget consultations conducted at Hotel Gander
Given the opportunity to speak, Gander’s Derm Coady took full advantage of his time to fill Gander MHA and Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, Kevin O’Brien, in on a number of ways government could save money.
© Brandon Anstey/The Beacon
SENIOR SUPPORT – Derm Coady, director of the national association of retirees, said government needs to plan budgeting with the future costs of health care in mind.
“We recommend our government adopt a policy of putting additional funding into home care to permit patients to remain at home as long as possible. Some patients only need two hours per day, while others may need four, six or eight hours per day. A small minority needs 24-hour care,” said Mr. Coady, who spoke on behalf of the National Association of Federal Retirees (FSNA). “It is difficult to obtain any more than two hours per day at present. If government could provide up to eight hours per day it would decrease the pressure on our hospitals. You will find that some family members help with the care.”
“This could save huge dollars for our government, plus free up the hospital beds.”
According to Mr. Coady, citing a survey conducted by the Globe and Mail, a hospital bed costs about $842 on average compared to $126 for a bed in a long-term care facility.
This was somewhat of a timely suggestion, as Minister O’Brien earlier noted in his opening remarks during the provincial government’s pre-budget consultation stop in Gander last Friday, government spends more on health care than any other province.
Minister O’Brien also explained in his opening remarks to the four groups that attended the consultation that all things aren’t rosy financially in the provincial coffers.
“I’ll start off with the bad piece is that as we outlined in last year’s budget and in the fall financial update, our province is facing a significant deficit for 2014. There’s no avoiding that and it’s there.”
There has been surpluses said Mr. O’Brien, but he encouraged all those in attendance to speak up for not only the budget but for the province as well.
“I’d like to get some input with regards to what you see and how you can assist us in dealing with that deficit in 2014.”
The deficit he referred to is the estimated $450.6 million deficit for 2013-2014, projected by the provincial government at mid-point of the financial year. While that number may seem high, it’s $113 million less than what was originally forecasted.
“This is mainly due to lower than anticipated expenses from budget day to what was projected at mid-term,” said Mr. O’ Brien.
The problem, he said, is that revenue from oil royalties are going down, prompting the provincial government to explore new means of gaining revenue through energy plans.
The FSNA director also relayed his concerns about seniors in the province throughout his speech to Mr. O’Brien.
“The FSNA have been advocating on behalf of seniors in this province since 2005. Presentations were made to the minister of health and finance each year seeking improvements to the long-term health care and health care in general. We have seen improvements over this period, however, further changes are needed,” said Mr. Coady. “We are still the only province in Canada that is assessed on income plus assets when entering government- sponsored long-term care facilities. We request that assets be removed completely from the assessment, and instead use the previous year income tax return, which is the method used in the other provinces of Canada.”
Mr. Coady also requested government make sure qualified health officials are a requirement in all personal care homes. This, he said, would improve the level of care and keep ill patients out of hospitals and long-term care facilities.
“The longer you can keep a patient out of our hospitals by giving care elsewhere, the less cost it is to our province.”
In his final note, the FSNA director also raised the issue of future health care funding.
“Our seniors are increasing rapidly while our population growth is decreasing or stagnant. This means we have less population working in relation to the costs associated with increased seniors. This will require budget planning for the future,” said Mr. Coady. “We are requesting our government to make a strong request for more funding from Ottawa to provide the care needed for our seniors in the future.”
Mr. O’Brien agreed with Mr. Coady the issues are indeed serious.
“Well, as just referenced in your presentation, we have made some progress over the last couple of budgets,” said Mr. O’Brien. “The things that you outlined, you’re absolutely right: There are challenges there. It’s hard, and those were complex issues you outlined with regards to our aging population base and the challenges that come with it. It takes time with regards to trying to address those issues, but we are trying to do so.”
Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce
Don Farrell was at the meeting to present concerns and requests of the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce.
The presentation applauded the efforts of the provincial government, but it was also a request for the continued development of Gander and surrounding areas. On the list of concerns were education, health care, tourism, wage funding, and municipal issues.
In his closing statements, Mr. Farrell cited a list of requests of the chamber.
“In conclusion, we would like to summarize our presentation along the following common themes: Continued economic development targeted towards our region; completion of the re-development of the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre; further investment into schools to replace the old and outdated Gander Academy; and to maintain and improve upon the infrastructure and framework allowing existing businesses to grow and attract new business.”
Also in the requests were expansions of government services. This in turn would stimulate the economy in the area and improve the environment for residents, said Mr. Farrell.
The Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce also asked the provincial government to work with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador to develop a suitable fiscal framework that would benefit all parties involved.
“We look forward to working with our MHAs and government to stimulate economic growth in our area and provide a framework for future development,” said Mr. Farrell.
Mr. O’Brien heard and responded to the concerns presented by saying:
“All of the things that you’ve outlined are really important, and some things are really important to me as an MHA. You’ll see action down on new the site for the school this year.”
Community Sector Council Newfoundland and Labrador
Benitta Ford was on-hand as the representative for the Community Sector Council Newfoundland and Labrador. Ms. Ford outlined the council would like to see a continual involvement of the provincial government in volunteer programs and the council.
The council provides a number of services, including their involvement in social centers and programs. A request was made to provincial government for continued funding and support in areas of the volunteer sector. The responsibility of these volunteer committees goes beyond just volunteering, said Ms. Ford.
“It’s the infrastructure that volunteer sectors have in the communities. The volunteer sector spends money: They have buildings, they pay electricity bills, they pay worker compensations rates, and they hire people,” said Ms. Ford.
“The money adds up”
Volunteering, she said, doesn’t happen without legs to hold it up.
“Volunteering happens because it’s supported by strong organizations.”
Adventure Central Newfoundland
The tourism industry is a strong economic provider in this province, and Shannon Pinsent of Adventure Central Newfoundland was present at the consultation to raise the organization’s concerns and requests.
“One of the biggest concerns in the tourism industry is that the provincial marketing budget was cut by $4 million. At the end of the day, it sounds like a small amount of funding to cut, but it had huge impacts on the current client,” said Mr. Pinsent. “The problem with the cutback is that all these marketing campaigns is that have life cycles.”
The tourism industry is strong, but it can only continue to grow and maintain that level of interest if the financial support is there, said Mr. Pinsent.
Adventure Central Newfoundland requested that government provide support to allow that industry to grow, which in turn will be both economic and population growers.
Mr. O’Brien commented on the marketing cutback, and said funding will be returned to the ad campaign in the future.
“The reason why we cut that particular fund was that we had grown the tourism industry to a point,” said Mr. O’Brien.
The provincial government had to prioritize on last year’s budget, and was comfortable enough with the tourism’s industry’s boom to “stall” for an amount of time, said Mr. O’ Brien.