Serv­ing our ag­ing com­mu­ni­ties is a growth in­dus­try

The Amherst News - - OPINION - Alan Wal­ter Alan Wal­ter is a re­tired pro­fes­sional en­gi­neer liv­ing in Ox­ford. He was born in Wales and worked in Hal­i­fax. He spends much of his time in Ox­ford, where he oper­ates a small farm. He can be reached at alan­wal­

Ox­ford’s largest fu­neral home on Main Street re­cently pur­chased the house next door and then de­mol­ished it to make room for fu­ture growth and more client park­ing spa­ces.

This should come as no sur­prise given the rapid ag­ing of our pop­u­la­tion. In Cum­ber­land County in par­tic­u­lar, we see a strong growth mar­ket for ser­vices cater­ing to our ag­ing com­mu­ni­ties, that will likely go on for many years.

The rea­sons are ob­vi­ous. The Nova Sco­tia Depart­ment of Fi­nance projects that in our re­gion the pop­u­la­tion over 64 years of age will grow by 40 per cent in the pe­riod up to 2034, while the pop­u­la­tion un­der 20 years old will de­cline by 20 per cent. It’s a de­press­ing prospect, but it’s what we face if we don’t get our to­tal eco­nomic growth act to­gether. But that’s a whole other topic.

As a re­sult of our ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, there are other prospects that pri­vate sec­tor busi­nesses

are step­ping up to, such as health care - ca­pa­ble re­tire­ment homes, hos­pices, etc.

Per­haps the largest mar­ket growth op­por­tu­nity comes from the broad range of health-care ser­vices, cur­rently pro­vided by our pub­licly funded sys­tem. As a growth mar­ket it dwarfs in size the pre­vi­ous ex­am­ples.

If this fu­ture gold­mine were to be served by the pri­vate sec­tor, not that I am ad­vo­cat­ing such a sce­nario, pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ments would be flood­ing into our com­mu­ni­ties to take ad­van­tage of this “growth mar­ket.”

Where else is there an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion that is grow­ing so rapidly, with the health chal­lenges that come with old age? Pri­vate sec­tor doc­tors and other health-care pro­fes­sion­als would be ready to fill va­can­cies and build a life here, just as fu­neral di­rec­tors are mak­ing plans for their op­por­tu­ni­ties ahead.

This myth­i­cal pri­vate sec­tor would find in­no­va­tive ways to serve sparsely pop­u­lated ar­eas of our county more cost ef­fec­tively, with first class fa­cil­i­ties and tech­nol­ogy. This is what they do well. Com­pen­sa­tion and work­ing con­di­tions would be de­signed to at­tract suf­fi­cient health-care pro­fes­sion­als, which is what we would de­serve, just as much as the more pop­u­lated ar­eas in the prov­ince.

Of course, we rightly want to pre­serve our pub­lic sec­tor health-care sys­tem in which ev­ery­one is taken care of in a timely fash­ion, at least in the­ory.

A key is­sue that af­fects us di­rectly is the sys­tem hasn’t yet fig­ured out how to ad­e­quately serve a growth mar­ket in more dis­persed pop­u­la­tion ar­eas… and I be­lieve the so­lu­tion lies in the cur­rent sys­tem re-imag­in­ing it­self, uti­liz­ing the best of pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tor mod­els.

We are for­tu­nate that El­iz­a­beth Smith-McCrossin, our lo­cal MLA, has a suc­cess­ful pri­vate sec­tor back­ground, cre­at­ing sev­eral high-end busi­nesses, is an ex­ec­u­tive MBA grad­u­ate, and a reg­is­tered nurse very fa­mil­iar with our lo­cal health-care short­com­ings. As a re­sult, she can prop­erly eval­u­ate ideas that adopt a prac­ti­cal pub­lic/pri­vate sec­tor ap­proach, with­out un­der­min­ing the fun­da­men­tal role of our pub­lic health ser­vice.

In par­tic­u­lar, she will have her eye on the chal­lenges faced by more sparsely pop­u­lated com­mu­ni­ties such as Cum­ber­land County. As an ex­am­ple, the planned on­line health records sys­tem to serve the whole prov­ince is some­thing she will want to keep a close eye on.

We would not want a re­peat of the “Phoenix” pay sys­tem ex­pe­ri­ence where hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral em­ploy­ees are still not be­ing cor­rectly paid. It was in­tended to be a more ef­fi­cient al­ter­na­tive to the many ex­ist­ing stand-alone pay sys­tems in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy, with a “one size fits all” sys­tem, but it is fail­ing mis­er­ably.

The prob­lem is that large pub­lic sec­tor bu­reau­cra­cies tend to build struc­tures in their own im­age, which is just what we don’t need in a multi-faceted prov­ince.

Af­ter two years of em­ployee mis­ery, the feds are now re­turn­ing to a dis­trib­uted sys­tem of “pods” in place of Phoenix, where each depart­ment gets to take care of its own unique pay sys­tem needs. A more sen­si­ble cou­pling of con­sci­en­tious pub­lic ser­vants and pri­vate sec­tor tech­nol­ogy.

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