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This month, I am continuing to dig into our five core policy priorities with an issue that affects all New Brunswickers: Innovative Solutions to Accessing Primary Healthcare. With a clear link between community health and economic vitality, healthcare is an issue that demands our collective attention.  

Recent data from 2022 highlights that while about 85 percent of New Brunswickers have access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner, the situation is more complex than it seems. In Fredericton, about 80 percent have access to a family doctor – a percentage that signifies a decrease from previous years. The intricacies of access become apparent when we consider that only one in three people can secure an appointment within five days, according to the New Brunswick Health Council’s latest survey on primary care, and more than 20, 000 people are still on the waitlist for a family doctor. The New Brunswick nursing union reports approximately 1,000 vacant positions across the province’s healthcare sector. This shortage underscores the urgency of our collaborative efforts to comprehensively address primary healthcare access. 

This reality underscores the pressing need for innovative solutions to accessing primary healthcare. The implications stretch beyond individual health; they directly affect our local businesses and, by extension, the overall economic landscape. A deficiency in access poses a numerous issues: 

  1. Talent Attraction and Retention: As potential recruits contemplate relocation, their top concern revolves around access to a family doctor. Family well-being is paramount, and this consideration significantly impacts their decision-making process. For businesses, attracting and retaining talent becomes a more daunting task in the face of limited healthcare access. 
  1. Investment Confidence: Businesses evaluating expansion contemplate the availability of quality healthcare. The absence of adequate primary care raises concerns, potentially deterring investment and limiting economic growth. A thriving business ecosystem requires assurance that employees’ well-being is adequately addressed. 
  1. Absenteeism and Workforce Productivity: Delays in care translate into prolonged absenteeism, compromising workplace productivity. This exacerbates existing workforce shortages and hinders our region’s growth potential. A proactive approach to healthcare not only benefits individuals but also contributes to a robust workforce. 
  1. Health Outcomes and Sustainability: Preventative care is essential to forestall chronic conditions. Inadequate primary care perpetuates poor health outcomes and escalates healthcare costs. A shift towards prioritizing access to preventative care can lead to healthier communities and reduced healthcare expenditure. 
  1. Financial Strain on Healthcare: An overwhelmed reactive healthcare system drives up costs, burdening provincial health budgets and taxing businesses and citizens alike. 

Recognizing the pivotal role businesses play in addressing this crisis, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has been proactively engaged in the health file since 2009 with our Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee. Last month, we hosted our annual welcome reception for the community’s medical residents. While recruitment is vital, our dual focus on retention highlights our understanding that a supportive community is the bedrock for long-term commitment. 

We believe that helping young medical residents and physicians make connections in the community will help them choose Fredericton to base their practice for the long-term. Most family doctors are paid on a fee-for-service model, essentially making them new small business owners and the same time they open their practice. A community approach to assisting them through this learning process can be a critical differentiator that sets us apart.  

Our advocacy efforts applauded the introduction of the Fair Registration Practices in Regulated Professions Act in 2022. This legislation is a significant stride toward overcoming barriers faced by internationally trained healthcare professionals. As we eagerly await updates on its implementation, we emphasize the importance of its impact on the healthcare sector. 

Guided by these principles, we recommend that the provincial government: 

  1. Foster Innovation: Continue to explore inventive community-based models such as family health teams, community clinics, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, and virtual care – while maintaining efforts to recruit the family physicians and specialists needed. 
  1. Elevate Healthcare Professions: Continually support and implement the Fair Registration Practices Act, ensuring a seamless and equitable credential recognition process, particularly for healthcare workers. 
  1. Amplify Training Capacities: Expand training opportunities for healthcare workers within New Brunswick, nurturing homegrown talent that is essential for sustained healthcare excellence. 

As we reflect on the challenges and potential solutions, we underscore the importance of collaborative efforts between government, businesses, and other stakeholders. 

The health of our citizens is intrinsically tied to the health of our economy. By embracing innovative solutions, cultivating partnerships, and fostering transparent communication, we can navigate the complex landscape of accessing primary healthcare. As the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, we stand unwavering in our commitment to instigate positive change and ensure that every New Brunswicker has equitable access to quality healthcare. Through united action, we can forge a path toward a healthier, more prosperous community. 

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with more than 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’. 

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