Privatizing rehabilitation services is an idea the province would be wise to consider, according to the leader of a Halifax-based think tank.

Charles Cirtwill, executive vice-president for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, pointed to efficiencies and savings that could come out of a proposal being worked on by a group of physicians in New Brunswick.

Under one model in the proposal masterminded by Dr. David Elias, the group would purchase the Grand Bay-Westfield Workers’ Rehabilitation Centre and assume full responsibility for services. They would then lease space back to the province’s Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.

The goal, Elias says, is to increase the number of services available to injured workers and ensure access to those services in the future.

Lengthy waiting times have plagued the centre, which admitted nearly 1,700 patients last year, and the commission stands to save money if claim times are reduced.

Privatization models within this sector have worked in other regions, such as Ontario, Cirtwill said. In that province, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board refers injured workers to private clinics for rehabilitation.

“This is one area where you are seeing a lot of privatization in Ontario,” Cirtwill said.

“Physiotherapy clinics that do work for worker’s compensation (in Ontario) are increasingly for-profit operations.”

If New Brunswick were to adopt a privately delivered rehabilitation service for worker’s compensation, it would set an important precedent, Cirtwill noted.

“The more that these things are tried and we actually know if they work or don’t work in our context, the more pressure will come to bear on others to look at them,” he said.

Cirtwill said a group of physicians would be in a good position to find efficiencies and savings in the delivery of rehabilitation services.

“These are the people who understand where the efficiencies are to be found, how the savings can be achieved to translate into basically the ability to serve more patients with less expense,” he said.

“The argument on the other side is ‘if they know how to do that, why don’t they do that in the public system?’ The simple answer is because it’s not in their interest to do so.”

The Grand Bay-Westfield Workers’ Rehabilitation Centre is the only centre of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

Restructuring may be in the WHSCC’s future as a months-overdue report on the commission’s status is due in the coming days.

Mary Tucker, spokesperson for the WHSCC, said the report is complete but is undergoing translation from English to French.

While she noted the review was not commissioned to look at any specific problems within the commission, she lauded the review process.

“It’s certainly a benefit to have an independent review panel look in on us and give us suggestions for improvement,” Tucker said.

The review was launched in May of 2007 to examine the functioning of the WHSCC in comparison to other regions of the country. The government-appointed panel’s mandate was to reveal key considerations for the future of the WHSCC.