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Are the Liberals Going to Privatize The Birches?

Information has come to light in the last two weeks of October showing that the provincial government is considering a proposal that could allow one of the country’s giant for-profit nursing home corporations to take over control of The Birches Home for Special Care. 

Two years ago, then-NDP Premier Darrell Dexter announced that the government was planning to replace the current building housing The Birches. At the time of Dexter’s 2013 announcement, the board of directors had been asking the province for more than nine years to fund a new building to replace the existing one.

During the 2013 provincial campaign, the Liberals indicated that they would honor the NDP’s promise for a new building. But month after month dragged by without any action. Finally the Minister of Health and Wellness, Leo Glavine, paid a visit to The Birches in company with MLA Kevin Murphy.

At the October 2015 meeting of the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs, Birches board chair Elliott Sutow surprised the room with his disclosure of Glavine’s plans for The Birches. Instead of going ahead with replacing the building as the NDP had promised, Glavin told Sutow that the Liberals would issue a Request for Proposal (RFP), not only to build a new building, but also to operate the new facility.  Such an RFP would force the operators of The Birches into a bidding war against deep-pocketed national for-profit nursing home corporations.

And to make matters worse, the fate of The Birches is also ensnared in the ongoing dispute surrounding MLA Kevin Murphy’s controversial proposal to include any new nursing home building in his “campus” concept. Murphy kick-started support for his concept by convening a private meeting in the fall of 2014. The group that evolved from this first meeting is now a society, the Community Campus Vision Association (CCVA), which registered with Joint Stocks in March 2015.

 At CCVA’s first public sometimes contentious public meeting at Gaetz Brook Junior High on October 28, 2015, CCVA told the audience that the society was in favour of having the RFP for The Birches include a clause that would give preference to any applicant that would locate the facility on a 80-acre or bigger site that could accommodate the other facilities that CCVA would like to see built as an integrated “campus.”

 There were questions about whether such a clause would further complicate efforts to replace the existing building, and further tilt the playing field towards outside corporations with the funds to take on the larger land acquisition.

 Murphy took the floor at the very end of the meeting, and at first appeared to be trying to put some distance between himself and the possibility of a delay that could be caused if there was a “campus” clause in the RFP.

 “The one thing I want to make clear is I am in no uncertain terms as the MLA going to jeopardize the request for proposals for a new seniors facility,” Murphy began. “That is a stand-alone piece at the moment.”

 But without a pause, he immediately swung back to supporting a “campus” clause in the province’s RFP.

 “We are hoping, as the chair of this committee pointed out, that there will be some clause in there that would give consideration to the possibility of a campus,” Murphy said.”

 The fate of The Birches is now up to Glavine. Issuing an RFP that would allow the passage of The Birches into the hands of a profit-making corporation is in keeping with the Liberals’ controversial exploration of the possibility of privatizing the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Land Registry, and the Registry of Joint Stocks. There has been some public protest about privatizing these services. 

 In the meantime, people can share their concerns about the still-to-be-issued Birches RFP by contacting Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine at (toll-free in Nova Scotia) 1-800-387-6665. 

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