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Opposition members say they have received few details on plans to develop rural health-care hubs in O’Leary, Summerside and Montague.
A capital budget document says $19.7 million will be allocated to two health-care hubs covering those three regions, but during budget estimates on Thursday night, Finance Minister Darlene Compton and Gordon MacFadyen, assistant secretary to treasury board, offered few details on how or when they will be open.
Answering a question from Green MLA Trish Altass Thursday, all MacFadyen could say was, “I don’t quite have what’s going into Montague with me, I will bring that back."
The Green Opposition had included calls for the establishment of health-care hubs in their platform during the 2019 election. During the fall 2019 capital budget, the Green Opposition had pushed the Progressive Conservative government to include an investment in rural health hubs.
At that time, the Greens had welcomed the news that these hubs would receive a $5 million investment.
But during estimates, Altass said she was confused that the budget appeared to indicate new buildings would be constructed for the hubs.
“Our plan for rural hubs did not include new buildings. The idea was we would use existing infrastructure and repair and retrofit and fix it up to make it suitable as a hub. Who was consulted in making these decisions?” Altass said.
MacFadyen said plans for the rural hub in O’Leary would involve affordable housing that would be co-located on the same space. He said the Department of Social Development and Housing and Health P.E.I. had collaborated on the plans.
But in response to a question from Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker, MacFadyen said he did not know if the housing would be for seniors or for other individuals.
“I really have no idea what this government’s idea of what a rural health hub is,” Bevan-Baker said.
Liberal MLA Robert Henderson had criticized the lack of clarity around the hubs last fall. On Friday, he said he was still in the dark as to what the facilities would look like.
"They have allocated about $5 million or a little bit better toward these. That means for three buildings and the possible fit-up of those buildings. That doesn't sound like a lot of money for three buildings," Henderson said. "It doesn't seem to me that the money equals the potential outcome."
In an interview, Health Minister James Aylward said surveys are underway in several rural communities to determine their health needs. He said plans for the rural hubs would be informed by these surveys, which would be complete in the coming weeks.
Aylward said he appreciated the submissions from the Opposition Greens last fall but noted many of the literature of health-care hubs involved examples in Ontario.
"We want to make sure it's an Island-made product that suits the needs of P.E.I.," Aylward said. "We want to make sure we're doing it right, that Islanders are receiving the right care at the right place."
Stu Neatby is the political reporter for The Guardian.