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N.S. spends $39.6 million on doctors, including $150 new-patient bonus



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  • HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s family doctors are getting a pay boost — including a one-time, $150 bonus for every new patient they take on who was previously without a doctor.

    Premier Stephen McNeil announced nearly $40 million in funding for family doctors Monday, including $13.9 million for hikes for physicians paid through fee-for-service or through a salary.

    The Health Department estimates physicians could take home an extra $10,000 to $20,000 a year due to an increase in the office fee alone.

    “We have a focused investment in family medicine, which is a first critical step in solving the challenges facing Nova Scotia’s primary health system,” said Dr. Tim Holland, president-elect of Doctors Nova Scotia.

    Of the money announced Monday — one day ahead of Tuesday’s provincial budget — $18.2 million is part of the $240 million, end-of-year spending spree announced last week.

    Under the plan, charges for visits by patients under age 65 will jump for the current rate of $31.72 to $36. The rate for seniors increases to $44.54 from $40.26.

    Holland said the funding would help with doctor recruitment and retention efforts as well as encouraging better ways to practise family medicine.

    “This isn’t just about putting more dollars in the pockets of family doctors. This allows family doctors to practice the way they want to … and it effectively leverages technology to increase capacity within our system.”

    Holland said the changes would help address a pay gap with other physicians in the Atlantic region.

    On average, the pay for Nova Scotia’s physicians is currently the lowest in the country.

    According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information “the average gross clinical payment per physician (family doctors and specialists) ranged from $262,000 in Nova Scotia to $380,000 in Alberta,” in 2015-16. Doctors Nova Scotia provided provincial MSI data indicating gross family physician compensation is approximately $254,000.

    “It will bring us much closer to our regional colleagues in New Brunswick and P.E.I.,” Holland said. “It won’t bring us right up to them but it’s going to really close that gap and that will allow us to push forward on a lot of the other things that will attract physicians to Nova Scotia.”

    The announcement also includes $6.6 million to encourage family doctors to develop an up-to-date patient list, a $4.2 million e-health pilot project incentive, and $8.5 million to support doctors using electronic medical records.

    It also includes $6.4 million to encourage doctors to accept patients from the provincial wait list, which currently stands at 44,000.

    The plan will see a $150 bonus “for each patient a family doctor takes off the list, or who is referred from an emergency department, or without a family doctor due to doctor retirements or relocation,” the province said.

    Dr. Heather Johnson, a family physician in a group collaborative practice with three other physicians in Bridgewater, said the money will make a difference in patient care and access.

    Johnson said the use of more telephone and electronic health services will mean less of a need to see patients in person who have travel problems, who are managing chronic conditions, or who are frail and elderly.

    “I will be able to allow technology to facilitate their care more easily. It will be easier for my patients and then hopefully free up some time that will allow other patients who need to see me face-to-face, easier access.”

    McNeil said the patient incentive, the enrolment incentive, and part of the electronic medical records initiative ($5.2 million) are one-time incentives set out in a trust announced last week.

    “This will give us a chance to assess these (incentives),” he said. “The issues around the investments we are making in terms of the fee-for-service changes or the issues in terms of some of the other direct investments, they are ongoing and part of our fiscal plan.”

    As part of that ongoing commitment, McNeil said, an additional $1.5 million is earmarked for medical records in 2018-19 and $1.8 million in 2019-20.

    Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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    ‘When everybody leaves: Counselling key to help Humboldt move on after bus crash



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  • HUMBOLDT, Sask. — Mary-Jane Wilkinson is worried about what will happen to families and a community grieving the dead and the injured in a tragic hockey bus crash earlier this month in Saskatchewan.

    Funerals have been held and residents of Humboldt where the junior league Broncos are based face the return to their daily routines.

    Wilkinson, the manager of the Canalta Hotel, experienced grief herself when she lost her husband at a young age. She was left to raise her son Richard by herself.

    Dealing with life after a tragedy can be the worst part following a loss, she said.

    “When everybody leaves, which eventually everybody does, then you’re starting your new normal and it’s very tough. The community is going to really have to keep working to make sure the people heal … with the support from the community,” said Wilkinson.

    “Once everybody goes away, they’re actually dealing with it for the first time alone, and I know what that feels like.”

    The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Sask., on April 6 when their bus and a semi-trailer collided at a rural intersection. Sixteen people, including 10 players, died and 13 were injured. The driver of the truck wasn’t hurt.

    The deputy reeve of the Rural Municipality of Connaught where the crash occurred said the immediate aftermath has been hard for many people.

    “One of our councillors that sits at this table with us was one of the first on scene. He’s struggling,” said Ian Boxall. “The biggest thing right now (is) making sure that these people have what they need to get through this.”

    Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy was part of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos crash in which four of his Western Hockey League teammates died.

    “There’s the shock, and then there’s the grief, and then … part of healing with anything is acceptance,” said Kennedy.

    “We’ve got to find ways to manage those negative thoughts, or those images … or the guilt. We know a lot of guilt comes with people who have come through these types of tragedies.”

    The Psychology Association of Saskatchewan is urging people to reach out for help. Dr. Regan Hart, with the association, said the first thought is with the friends and family of the victims. But she said a tragedy like this is far-reaching. 

    “It could be quite wide-ranging in that sense because a lot of these kids were quite active members of their school groups and their communities,” she said.

    “When it’s someone you know in such a tragic kind of accident, I think it kind of hits close to home for a lot of people especially in a small province and smaller communities that we have here in Saskatchewan.”

    The association compiled a list of mental-health resources for the general public:

    — By Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

    The Canadian Press

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    Parliament Hill plays host to last annual marijuana rally before legalization



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  • OTTAWA — A haze of marijuana smoke blanketed crowds on Parliament Hill on Friday as pot enthusiasts of all ages gathered below the Peace Tower for the annual cannabis celebration known as 4-20.

    The event marks the last time pot users will flock to the Hill to celebrate cannabis culture in late April before the federal government legalizes recreational marijuana later this summer.

    “What happened here today on Parliament Hill was a gathering of like-minded individuals seeking sensible cannabis legislation,” said Kevin Shae, a 32-year-old recreational marijuana user.

    For Shae, that means ensuring the government does not create a “monopoly of the industry” and making sure those with health issues have the access they need to medical marijuana. 

    Young people and older medicinal users alike were well represented among the expanse of people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder across the west lawn in the heart of the parliamentary precinct. RCMP estimated the turnout numbered in the thousands.

    Tyler Graydon, a first-time 4-20 attendee, said he and his friends are “excited” to see pot becoming legal. Graydon, 17, is closing in on the minimum age for legal consumption — it will vary from province to province, but 18 or 19 seems to be the ballpark, likely following on existing alcohol restrictions.

    Graydon, however, doesn’t think it will make much difference.

    “As soon as it’s legalized, it’ll be in too many hands to really stop it,” he said. “They’ll get their hands on it somehow. They’ll get it from their parents or from the jar in the cupboard. It won’t be hard.”

    By mid-afternoon, police were reporting a mellow vibe with no incidents.

    For Alex Burridge, 20, this year’s celebration is a particularly meaningful one — he just picked up his first prescription for medical marijuana, which he’ll use to alleviate back pain from a sports injury. Legalization, he says, has been a long time coming.

    “It’s something that people have been looking forward to for generations and we’re finally on the brink of it. I feel like it’s something that puts our country ahead of a lot of others.”

    Fourteen-year-old Emma Boniface, whose mother also uses marijuana for medical purposes, earned cheers from the audience for her keynote speech, part of an effort by organizers to emphasize the importance of including young people in the national conversation about legalization.

    “I have to trust that our current government and medical system will know what’s best for me because I’m a minor and I don’t have the right to decide for myself,” she said.

    “My mother is all the proof I need to know that cannabis works.”

    Ottawa paramedics responded to three medical incidents, two of which involved people exhibiting the effects of marijuana use. They were treated and released at the scene.

    Ottawa was far from the only locale in Canada where 4-20 was being celebrated. Gatherings took place across the country, from Vancouver to St. John’s, N.L., where the newly opened Puffin Hut was hosting an inaugural “Weed Olympics.”

    Scheduled events included a biggest bong hit competition, a dab-off and a prize for the most creative joint art.

    “The perfect way to describe it would be to say it’s like being in a martini bar at 12 o’clock on a Friday night, only much more chill,” manager Brian Walsh said of the festivities.

    In Vancouver, venders hawking marijuana edibles, T-shirts and pot paraphernalia set up tents at Vancouver’s Sunset Beach.

    Cannabis activist Jodie Emery said while there is a festival-like celebration of marijuana culture on the beach, it’s also a protest — the sort of event that ultimately made legalization possible.

    “This is an enormous act of peaceful civil disobedience where people are openly breaking the law and demonstrating that (this) should not be illegal, Emery said — a reference to the merchants selling all manner of pot products, the sale of which won’t be any more legal after the Cannabis Act is passed.

    “The upcoming legislation actually makes all of this still illegal — you’re not allowed to brand or market. All of these entrepreneurs, hundreds of small business owners, will still be criminals under the Liberal legislation.”

    Raisa Patel, The Canadian Press

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