NL medical officials left with questions amid plans to bring health authorities together

Yvette Coffey is the president of the Registered Nurses’ Union of Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Officials within Newfoundland and Labrador’s health-care and academic communities say consolidating the province’s four regional health authorities into one has the potential to be a good thing, but there are still questions.

The plan to bring the health authorities together was announced in the 2022 provincial budget, a plan which Finance Minister Siobhan Coady says will streamline processes and improve things like decision making, data management and more.

The idea was also brought forward in the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team Report — also known as the Greene Report — in 2021.

Yvette Coffey, president of the province’s registered nurses’ union, said she was happy to see additional spending in the province’s health-care budget, but knows her members will have concerns over moving to a single health authority.

“Our members will have a lot of questions around that, what that means for them, will there be job losses,” Coffey told CBC News Friday.

“We would hope that there would be a transition and a discussion with stakeholders … to ensure that there is a workers’ lens put on any decisions that are made.”

The provincial government says it’s too early to tell if the move to one health authority will result in job losses.

MUN medical faculties will also group up

Coady also announced Thursday the provincial government is bringing post-secondary medical programs, including pharmacy and nursing, under one province-wide faculty of health — something that originally caught Memorial University President Vianne Timmons off guard.

“If there were conversations, they weren’t with me, which is very possible because we’re a big, comprehensive university,” Timmons said Friday.

Timmons’ thought was correct, according to a statement from the Department of Education. The department said budget officials made courtesy calls to various members of Memorial’s executive, including the vice president academic and the dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

Memorial University President Vianne Timmons said Friday she can’t give a timeline as to when medical faculties could begin to operate under one roof. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

Timmons said conversations with faculty deans and the school’s board of regents will begin to see if government’s vision can be a reality, but added partnering with government is important.

“I definitely see the benefits, but there are challenges too,” she said.

“For example, each discipline, people are attached to their discipline. They’re very focused, they train within their discipline. So we want to make sure that we keep the capacity to make sure our nursing students get trained in the nursing profession … same for pharmacy students.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association President Dr. Susan MacDonald said she’s cautiously optimistic about the idea, but says the devil is in the details.

“I trained in a system where all those schools were under the Faculty of Health Sciences, and it seemed to work relatively well, but I was a student so what did I know?” she said Thursday.

Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association President Dr. Susan MacDonald says she wants to see more details on the government’s plan to consolidate the health faculties at Memorial University. (Patrick Butler/Radio Canada)

“I don’t know how that’s going to play out. And I’d like to see a lot more details about that. I think anything where students from a variety of faculties work together and train together and learn together, because they’re going to practice together, there’s some benefits for that.”

Education Minister Tom Osborne said Thursday he believes progress on amalgamating the faculties could be made in 2022 or 2023, but Timmons wouldn’t comment on a timeline.

Coffey hopes to learn how other health care programs, like the nursing programs at the College of the North Atlantic, fit into the picture but said she can see the benefits of a collaborative approach.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that this will create more of a team-based approach to health care by having them all under the one heading, the one school. And that each groups will not be in silos anymore, but trained in a team- based approach, which is what we are aiming for when we talk about primary health-care models.”

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