‘This is not work­ing’

Doc­tors lead rally about state of lo­cal health care

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY NANCY KING

The frus­tra­tion and sense of ur­gency was pal­pa­ble Sun­day as hun­dreds of peo­ple con­cerned about ac­cess to fam­ily doc­tors and spe­cial­ists packed a doc­tor-led rally about the state of lo­cal health care.

Even af­ter a call went out for the de­liv­ery of ad­di­tional chairs, it was stand­ing-room-only in the Memo­rial Com­pos­ite High gym­na­sium in Syd­ney Mines for the rally where doc­tor af­ter doc­tor pas­sion­ately out­lined their fears about the im­pli­ca­tions if the pool of doc­tors con­tin­ues to erode and if the North­side Gen­eral emer­gency de­part­ment is ul­ti­mately shut down per­ma­nently.

“I can­not speak for all of my col­leagues, but I know a lot of us are tired, stressed, frus­trated and strug­gling to keep up,” said Dr. Irina Ghe­nea, who has been in fam­ily prac­tice in North Syd­ney for 17 years.

“If we are not al­ready there, we are rapidly ap­proach­ing a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion.”

“I have a mes­sage for the Nova Sco­tia Health Author­ity,” noted Dr. Jeanne Fer­gu­son, a geri­atric psy­chi­a­trist. “Hear us clearly — this is not work­ing.”

Ghe­nea noted the North­side Gen­eral has seen re­duced emer­gency de­part­ment hours, an in­house in­ternist has re­tired and was not re­placed, a ra­di­ol­o­gist has not been re­placed, and there are hun­dreds if not thou­sands of pa­tients with­out fam­ily doc­tors.

Stan­dard wait time for a men­tal health re­fer­ral in Cape Bre­ton now stands at 354 days, com­pared to 80 days in

Hal­i­fax, she said, elic­it­ing gasps from the crowd. Two more psy­chi­a­trists are due to leave the area this sum­mer.

The area has also lost vas­cu­lar surgery, tho­racic surgery, in­fec­tious dis­ease and geri­atric spe­cial­ists, Ghe­nea said, and there is only one child psy­chi­a­trist in Cape Bre­ton.

“We do not have any­where near the num­ber of adult psy­chi­a­trists needed to deal with our cur­rent men­tal health cri­sis,” Ghe­nea said. “If th­ese losses were not tax­ing enough, many fam­ily physi­cians have re­cently left the area and oth­ers are chang­ing or leav­ing their prac­tices as they get older.”

That leaves fewer doc­tors try­ing to keep up with the increasing needs of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

“We need help, in­stead our govern­ment is threat­en­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of our emer­gency room and lim­it­ing our abil­ity to re­cruit more doc­tors,” Ghe­nea said. “The pub­lic is be­ing told that the health author­ity or our govern­ment are look­ing for more doc­tors or try­ing to re­cruit and I am here to tell you that this is sim­ply to true.”

The De­part­ment of Health seems to have an ar­bi­trary num­ber of fam­ily physi­cians al­lot­ted to the com­mu­nity, she said, and they are be­ing told the area is at ca­pac­ity. Ghe­nea said she has asked nu­mer­ous times how that num­ber is cal­cu­lated but hasn’t got­ten an an­swer.

“The only thing I do know with cer­tainty is that the num­ber of peo­ple who don’t have a fam­ily physi­cian is not part of the equa­tion,” Ghe­nea said.

De­ci­sions are be­ing made uni­lat­er­ally by govern­ment at a dis­tance and aren’t based on the knowl­edge of front-line physi­cians, she said, adding that morale in the lo­cal med­i­cal com­mu­nity is at an all-time low.

On days when the North­side Gen­eral emer­gency de­part­ment is closed be­cause a doc­tor isn’t avail­able to staff it, pa­tients are di­rected to go to the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Hos­pi­tal in

Syd­ney, caus­ing “crit­i­cal over­crowd­ing” there, said Dr. Joan Salah, a fam­ily doc­tor.

“If North Syd­ney has fur­ther de­creases in its re­sources and fund­ing we will have de­creased hours and we are cer­tainly at risk of clos­ing,” she said.

Salah said there seems to be a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of pri­mary care and emer­gency room care.

“The dif­fi­culty here is that ac­cess is be­ing re­moved piece by piece, hour by hour from the emer­gency de­part­ment but not be­ing re­placed by any­thing else,” she said. The dis­cus­sion of col­lab­o­ra­tive prac­tices is wel­come but that’s of lit­tle im­me­di­ate help if they’re ex­pected to open over the next five to 10 years, Salah added.

Dr. Mar­garet Fraser has a fam­ily prac­tice in Syd­ney and has worked in many com­mu­ni­ties around Cape Bre­ton. She noted that doc­tors aren’t nor­mally ones to speak out about the state of health care but they are also ob­li­gated to act as patient ad­vo­cates.

“To­day, we’re here to ad­vo­cate for our com­mu­nity, for the health of Cape Bre­ton,” she said.

The con­di­tions that she sees some emer­gency de­part­ment pa­tients have to en­dure for days as they’re kept on stretch­ers in hall­ways — con­stant noise, no dark area where they can go to sleep — are con­sid­ered rec­og­nized forms of tor­ture, Fraser said.

“We are do­ing it to our el­derly, to our young peo­ple, to chil­dren every day,” she said.

There are many pa­tients whose con­di­tions are com­pro­mised be­cause they lack a fam­ily doc­tor and the con­ti­nu­ity of care that comes with it, she said. There are some med­i­ca­tions that can­not be pre­scribed to pa­tients be­cause they don’t have a fam­ily doc­tor to mon­i­tor their ef­fects.

In the three emer­gency de­part­ment shifts she has worked in Syd­ney in the past week, every hall­way has been crammed with pa­tients for the du­ra­tion of the shift, Fraser said.

If the re­gional hos­pi­tal emer­gency de­part­ment had to deal with the 10,000 pa­tients a year cur­rently seen at the North­side Gen­eral’s de­part­ment “the place will fall apart,” she said.

Mem­bers of the pub­lic also ex­pressed their frus­tra­tions with the sys­tem. Mar­lene Gal­lant of English­town noted her hus­band re­quires a stem cell trans­plant and ex­pressed her frus­tra­tions with the sys­tem and the lack of re­sponse from govern­ment.

“They re­ally should be en­raged, be­cause when it hap­pens to you, let me tell you, it’s not pretty,” she said. “I’m sorry for be­ing up­set about this but it’s the truth, and I think I’m speak­ing the truth for ev­ery­body here.”

CAPE BRE­TON POST

It was stand­ing-room-only at Memo­rial Com­pos­ite High gym­na­sium in Syd­ney Mines on Sun­day as hun­dreds of peo­ple came out to a rally where lo­cal doc­tors called for ac­tion to ad­dress the state of lo­cal health care.

Fer­gu­son

Ghe­nea

CAPE BRE­TON POST

Jen Hal­l­i­day of Boularderie brought this sign with her to a rally in Syd­ney Mines on Sun­day that at­tracted hun­dreds of peo­ple con­cerned about ac­cess to fam­ily doc­tors and spe­cial­ists.

Fraser

Gal­lant

Salah

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