December 1, 2023

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Private primary care clinic opens in Halifax while support for public system continues – Halifax

The president and founder of a new private health clinic in Halifax knows the public versus private health-care debate is a controversial one.

“I understand there’s controversy and I’m fully aware of that and cognizant of the fact that we’re open,” Randy Stevens says. “What the difference is between our clinic and another clinic is just simply the way we get paid and who pays us.”

Bluenose Health Primary Care Clinic has opened its doors at a condo complex with commercial space on Young Street in Halifax. The nurse practitioner will begin seeing patients this week.

The private clinic is vowing to “ensure timely access to quality primary healthcare” by only offering services to a “limited number” of people.

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To do that, it will charge a monthly subscription fee — $27.50 for adults and $9.50 for children — to people who would also pay for their appointments, such as a $69 fee for an initial assessment.

MSI, the provincial medical insurance plan, wouldn’t cover any costs, but people with private coverage “very well could be reimbursed for those fees,” says Stevens.

Stevens, an investor from Chester, N.S., says he opened the clinic due to his own experience with not being able to access care in the public system. He has diabetes and kidney problems.

“I need to have my file reviewed and constantly updated, and the health-care system in Nova Scotia was not allowing me to do that,” he says. “And I had a doctor for 40 years. He saved my life twice. And when I had quadruple bypass surgery recently, I had nowhere to go.”

That’s because, like many Nova Scotians, his doctor retired.

After his wife made hundreds of calls, she was finally able to get him an appointment at a local clinic in Chester to get staples removed.

Public or private health care

But the idea of private health care has caused concerns about creating a two-tiered system.

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Both Doctors Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union oppose privatized health care.

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“Doctors Nova Scotia supports the public health care system,” says Dr. Colin Audain, the organization’s president-elect. “We don’t want to see any Nova Scotians having to pay out of pocket for health care, especially if they can’t afford it.”

Janet Hazelton, the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, says she is “totally opposed to private health care.”

“There’s only so many health-care workers there, there’s only so many nurses working in this province,” Hazelton says. “And if they leave our public system to go work in the private system, then our public system, wait times are going to get longer. It’s going to really hurt our public system.”

In this case, Stevens says the two nurse practitioners hired have come from New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

“I think we’re we’re helping,” Stevens says. “We certainly don’t want to create any sort of undue animosity by anybody. We’re providing a service that I think is needed.”

Click to play video: 'N.B. premier speaks about expansion of private health-care service'

N.B. premier speaks about expansion of private health-care service

Lori Anne Peckford, the nurse practitioner who is awaiting the clinic’s first patient, moved to Nova Scotia in 2021 and says she couldn’t find work as a nurse practitioner. She worked in the public system in Newfoundland for 19 years.

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“The private sector is a perfect place for nurse practitioners such as myself to work to full scope or practice, and to offer something that is a little bit different,” she says. “The goal of the clinic will be to establish those great nurse practitioner-client relationships and ensure people are receiving the best care that they possibly can.”

For herself, there’s more control over patient numbers and day-to-day work-life balance, Peckford says.

Province focusing on public system

The province’s health minister acknowledges the publicly funded health-care system has been “under a lot of pressure for a long time.”

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But Michelle Thompson says the province has made — and will continue to make — investments in the public system to try to improve access.

She points to expanding virtual care, a pharmacy pilot involving nurse practitioners and mobile health clinics.

“We want a publicly funded system,” Thompson says. “We are always open to public-private partnerships if it’s equitable access and universal access.”

Generally speaking, she says people who use private health care to access the system need to be sure of the credentials and qualifications of those practising.

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