MO))) Editor Nov 23, 2015
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Nursing home pensions are a complex issue: Bill Fraser

Bill Frasers provides an update on the pending RFP for a new nursing home, and says finding solutions to employee issues is complex.

It looks likes finding a solution to funding the pensions of nursing home workers is delaying the RFP for the new nursing home. Minister Bill Fraser says several government departments are working together on a solution.

Background: Not long after an uproar at the MAEA about the P3 nursing home model was directed at local politicians and the Minister in charge of nursing homes, MO))) received a call about potential issues with pensions should the proposed P3 model become a reality. (See story about information meeting held at MAEA in September where the bed pan hit the fan: HERE)

Chances of the P3 model becoming a reality are very good, as Minister Bill Fraser told the crowd in September that the idea had been discussed for a long time, and was not a last minute solution to the problem of a shortage of nursing home beds in Miramichi.

In May the government announced a new 240 bed nursing home in Miramichi to replace the two outdated nursing homes now serving the area. Much of the pressure on the government came from a petition with 11,000 names on it, and a large public meeting hosted by Dr. Gerard Losier. Losier called the coming increased need for nursing home beds in Miramichi a "Tsunami of Seniors".

As many as 60 people waiting for nursing home beds languish at the regional hospital at any one time waiting for a bed to become open. But after the new home was announced, and hailed as "Christmas in May" by Losier, dissenters soon began warning of issues with lost jobs, and lost pensions.

Nursing home workers at the MAEA meeting in September expressed concerns with how the new facility would be staffed, and which employees would keep their jobs and which ones would not. Mayor Gerry Cormier pleaded with the MLAs at the meeting to come up with a plan to give some guarantees tot he workers worried about their futures.

The panel of politicians said that a 240 bed nursing home would eventually employ more people than the current two homes do. But the complex issue of pensions was barely mentioned. The worry is about how the pension plan will be funded if there are fewer contributors, and the ones left behind are making less money. (This is the scenario offered by CUPE at various public meetings on the issue) The calls MO))) received about the issue have been cautious, asking MO))) to dig into the ongoing discussions about the issue. Emails to CUPE representative Pat Roy about rumoured discussions with the government were not returned.

But Minister Bull Fraser offered some insight this evening that leaves the impression the issue is serious, especially since many departments are engaged in the discussions.

Fraser Says Many Parties Are Meeting On The Pension Issue

City Council had a meeting budget tonight at 6:30, and as people were arriving, Bill Fraser and Lisa Harris were leaving. Fraser and Harris had been updating Council on the looming RFP for the new nursing home, an RFP Fraser has said the existing operators could make a submission on.

Fraser was asked about how the concerns f nursing home workers were being considered. Fraser said their concerns are important.

"We have offered a tour of the new Shannex home (a P3 nursing home in New Brunswick) to show them how those facilities operate and what those new facilities look like. We are open to setting that up and taking them on the tour," he said.

Current workers at Miramichi nursing homes are concerned with reduced wages, how many jobs there will be and how people will be chosen for those jobs.

"We are working through the process to find solutions to those things, and until we find solutions the RFP will not be issued. We want to include everything in the RFP, and before we do that, we want to include the concerns that were raised by the employees in both nursing homes," said Fraser.

At the MAEA meeting, mayor Gerry Cormier pleaded with the the Government to implement local governance of the new facility, as a way of ensuring the fairest treatment of workers.

"The big issue here is the workers," said Cormier. He thanked the 5 ministers that attended the meeting, and said he knew they were listening. "I think if you can put it in your RFP that the nursing home be run by a local board, I think that would be a great step. We would appreciate that, and I would appreciate that."

Tonight, Fraser was asked, "Where on a scale from important to not so important does the pension issue rank?"

"Every issue that has been raised to us is important," said Fraser, "you know, because obviously the people that work there have concerns, and we want to address those concerns, and we will continue to work forward as quickly as we can to find solutions to the issues that have been presented to us."

Will the pension issue be one of the harder issues to find a solution to?

Fraser said several departments were working on a solution for the pension issue. "It is very complex, because you are dealing with two different employers ans several different employees. It's not a simple thing to fix, it's a complex thing to fix, and we have an internal committee within government that is looking specifically at that and working on it. Each day, we have people from the Justice Department, Nursing Home Services, from Social Development and the Premier's Office have formed a committee, and they have been working with the actuaries and the representatives of the pension plans to find a solution."

Is there a timeline for an RFP (Request For Proposal)?

"I wish there was a timeline for a solution. I wish there was. If it as up to me, we would get it done tomorrow, but we have to get it right."


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