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Private medical clinic opens in Halifax

It hasn’t officially seen any patients yet, but Monday was the first day open for Halifax’s new private medical clinic, called Bluenose Health Primary Care Clinic.

With four exam rooms, the nurse practitioner in charge of the primary care facility on Young Street says the phones have already been busy.

“There has been a lot of interest, we have a lot of people who want to sign up,” says Lori Anne Peckford.

The ongoing debate over whether privatization should fill gaps in public health care means Peckford is aware of the many questions and concerns Maritimers may have about the service.

Adult patients signing up at the clinic first pay a monthly subscription fee of $27.50 plus tax, while the monthly fee for children is $9.50 plus tax.

After that, clients then also pay for individual services, such as $29 for medication refills, according to Bluenose Health’s website.

“We understand that not everyone wants to join this type of clinic, but this is an option for people who want to have a different type of health-care experience and are okay with spending their own money to do that,” says Peckford.

The clinic’s opening came on the same day as an Angus Reid survey found a clear divide on the issue among Canadians, with 39 per cent of respondents seeing no place for privatization in health care.

Thirty-three per cent said they saw both sides of the debate, while 28 per cent said they believed privatization was necessary.

In Halifax’s north end, residents have differing views themselves.

“Certainly I worry about it, I think providing health care, taking care of each other, is one of the most fundamental things,” says John Shimeld.

“In broad terms, keeping it public is probably the best course of option for the time being, that doesn’t mean we don’t explore potential other avenues though,” says Andrew Brown.

“I am somewhere in the middle,” says Jenn Durrette. “I like the idea of ​​health care being free, but I still feel like free health care, people don’t have access to it.”

Former emergency department nurse and department manager Cathy MacNeil says Canadians need to understand the true price of private health care.

She recently published a book about the crisis facing the public health-care system, called “Dying to be Seen.”

“We should fund the public system,” says MacNeil, who adds that funding needs to come with a clear accounting from the provinces on how each health-care dollar is spent.

She blames the government for deliberately underfunding the system to let private interests in “through the back door.”

MacNeil says Canadians need to have equitable and timely access to the health care they pay taxes for.

“Do we really want to pay those taxes and start paying out of pocket? “ she asks. “Because you absolutely know when that starts, nobody’s going to stand up and say, “Ok, we’ll roll all your taxes back.’ That’s not going to happen.”

MacNeil has concerns about ensuring quality in the private system and with private health services recruiting staff from the public sector, putting even more pressure on the system.

At Bluenose Health, Peckford says the clinic has not taken staff from the public system, adding she herself found barriers finding employment in public health care after moving to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland more than a year ago.

For her, the clinic is just one option for Maritimers.

“All Canadians deserve good primary health care,” she says.

That, a point those on all sides of the debate, likely agree on.

For full coverage of Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated page.