Premier announces plans for Community Health Centre in New Waterford

From left, Mary Leadbeater, Shirley Leadbeater and Jimmy Heffernan listen during a press conference at the KOC hall in New Waterford Wednesday where Premier Stephen McNeil announced a new community health centre for the New Waterford. Heffernan said it’s a great idea which will help with the addiction problem in the community. More than 100 residents packed the hall for the announcement.

It’s been 20 years in the works, but New Waterford will finally be getting its community health centre.

On Wednesday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced a community health centre will be built in New Waterford to house health-care providers on a medical and preventative side, an idea that began with Dr. Peter Littlejohn two decades ago.

Jimmy Heffernan of New Waterford was happy with the news, saying it will help people with the drug addiction problem in the community.

“It’s all ages, it’s not just the young, it’s the old too,” he said. “There are people ages 13 to 70 (who are) addicted, the older people because of the medications.

“It starts with pain (and) it becomes more and more and they get addicted too.”

He said having doctors, counsellors and support groups all under one roof is going to make a difference.

“Some people just need someone to talk to. This is all going to help make a difference down the road.”

The concept for the new health centre, operated by a not-for-profit organization, will include medical services to address primary health care as well as other services such as mental health and addictions and public health service, as well as community wellness partners.

In a press conference at the KOC hall in New Waterford, McNeil said site selection and work design will start immediately with hopes the centre will be built in the new year.

“I’m committed to it, our government is committed to it and I’m here to tell you today we have committed finances budgeted for it,” he said.

“This investment is an important first step in making sure residents have a place to go, with quality care under one roof right here in New Waterford.”

McNeil acknowledged those who spent years working on this health care model, including Sister Margie Gillis, the Carmel Centre Society, the New Waterford Community Health Board and Dr. Littlejohn.

“In many ways they were setting the model of health-care delivery that I believe is the model Nova Scotia needs to address, a model they have been working on for more than two decades.”

He also commended Cape Breton Centre MLA David Wilton, who he said has advocated strongly for this centre. McNeil said he got involved in 2013, sitting down with Margie Gillis, and will continue to work with Gillis and the committee to ensure the services the community wants are in the facility.

“We want to make sure the services being provided in your community care centre are the ones that fit your needs and not the needs of some other community. “

McNeil declined to comment on potential costs for the facility, saying there’s a need for the tender process to be a competitive environment.

“It will bring us the final cost, we have committed to funding the facility.”

Wilton said drug addictions and mental health issues are problems across the province.

He acknowledged feeling sadness over young people who have died in the community, noting that the person he is with lost her daughter.

“It’s a problem that needs to be addressed, this facility will do that.”

Gillis, chair of the New Waterford Community Health Board, spoke passionately about the facility, saying the model they are advocating for is unique in bringing the medical component and the larger community component together.

Gillis said it is a community with not only a high addiction rate, but also high rates of mental illness, stress, poverty and an aging population.

“A community health centre, unlike a clinic, can help address many of the diseases and illnesses that we are seeing,” she said. “It will help us to reconstruct a once vibrant and still proud community.”

Gillis credited Wilton for making this happen.

“We passed the ball to Dave and Dave took off with it and he ran all the way to Halifax and back many times.”

She said he has also been persistent in carrying the ball to all of the government offices.

“And he never dropped it,” she added.

She also acknowledged Dr. Littlejohn, who had the idea for a community health centre 20 years ago.

“He approached us at the community centre about 10 years ago and we started working together on this,” she said. “He has been working longer than any of us to see a community health centre become a reality in New Waterford.”

Dr. Littlejohn was smiling ear-to-ear when taking the podium.

“I keep thinking the balloon is going to burst and I’m going to wake up,” he said. “This is the end of a long road and it’s an exciting one.”

He said the job of primary health care is to keep people healthy. However he said health comes in different sorts, from doctors who prescribe medications but also from communities being healthy, seniors having resources and so on.

‘What a community health centre does is brings a large part of health care into an integrated, co-ordinated, functioning system,” he said. “A community health centre will be an incredible complement to the hospital and the services there.”

Darren MacLeod of New Waterford attended the press conference,. With the issues of aging population and a young population with no doctors and need for mental health and addiction services in the community, he said a community health centre is a great idea.

“Any additional services we can bring into this town now is definitely positive.”

Janette McKinnon, board of directors of the Carmel Centre Society, said it’s a big relief to see this coming now.

“It’s going to be huge success, a bonus for the town,” she said. “The doctors were always on board with us from day one.

There’s going to be a lot to offer the town. Our board is extremely happy they are finally going to start breaking ground on it.”

Originally published in the Cape Breton Post