Doctors sound the alarm on physician departures
Cape Breton is the proverbial canary in the coalmine when it comes to the crumbling Nova Scotia health-care system and the provincial health authority is misleading the public, Dr. Jeanne Ferguson says.
At a press conference at the Health Park on Friday, Ferguson, who refers to herself as “the last living geriatric specialist in Cape Breton” said when she speaks to colleagues around the province they say that what she sees happening here is also taking place in other parts of the province.
“I believe that we have been misled by the health authority,” Ferguson said. “When the canary gives out, it’s time to leave the mine. Well, Cape Breton has always been a challenging place to recruit to, a challenging place to keep doctors in, now we are hemorrhaging. The hemorrhaging has to stop, we are tired of being misled by the health authority. They are not competent to do what they’re doing, and that is the bottom line.
“We’ve got to have local leadership and it has to be competent.”
A group of family doctors and specialists called the press conference to say they’ve learned that six additional doctors — who practise in areas including ophthalmology, radiology, psychiatry and family medicine — will leave Cape Breton within the next month and to discuss the impact it will have on the system.
Dr. Kevin Orrell, an orthopedic surgeon who has practised in Sydney for 28 years, said he considers the current situation among the lowest points in his tenure.
“We have lost an enormous number of people and I don’t think we have seen the end of that,” he said. “The difficulty is, when you start to lose people, it’s a snowball effect.”
When asked why physicians are leaving Orrell said no one really knows the answer to that question because exit interviews are not taking place.
“Some are personal and some are related to their work environment and the way they have to offer services in this kind of environment. We need to know what their problems are and we don’t, and that is a very important part of recruitment, to find out why someone is not happy, and that’s not happening.
Among those who watched the press conference was Anne Dares. The Westmount resident is worried because her family doctor, Dr. Bernie MacIntosh, is among those leaving.
“He has to leave here, he’s through fighting, he can’t go on anymore,” Dares said in an interview, adding it made her sick when she found how he was leaving.
Among her health concerns, Dares lives with depression, and knowing that she is losing her family doctor is an added stressor.
“He was a good doctor, very compassionate,” she said. “Where do I go from here? I just don’t know what I’m going to do right now, it’s making me more depressed. I don’t know where I’m going to turn to here, we know there’s thousands without family doctors.”
Dares added she’s glad doctors are speaking out about the problems in the system.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Craig Stone said health care is in crisis and the system itself needs to be treated now.
Stone noted many factors play in to physician satisfaction, including home life and work-life balance.
“If one comes home after work and feels that he’s not done the best that he could possibly do, that carries on into the home life,” Stone said.
Recruitment must to be done by physicians locally, he added, saying there’s nothing like word of mouth and collegial interaction when trying to attract a physician to an area. He said recruitment is now taking place by someone from outside of the area, behind closed doors
“The current strategy out of touch with reality,” Stone said. “The problems are local, the solutions naturally will be local.”
He also called for a return to “some semblance of a local health board,” for recruitment to be mobilized by medial staff and for a clearer chain of communication.
Stone said under the previous administration, if he wanted to raise an issue it was simply a matter of knocking on the door of former CEO John Malcom or Dr. Mahmood Naqvi, who served as medical director.
“It’s not that simple anymore,” Stone said. “We need local input into our own governance, into our own organization.”
As for his message to politicians — the press conference came just days before the provincial election and a number of candidates in the current campaign, at least one from each of the three major parties, was in attendance — Stone said throwing money at it will not solve the problem.
“They know what’s not working — we’ve told them, the public has told them,” he said. “It needs to be organized differently. “It’s not rocket science.” Two of the area’s newer doctors also spoke. Dr. Meghan Keating, who has worked in family medicine in the area since 2015, is originally from Cape Breton. She noted that among the six doctors that will soon leave are two psychiatrists.
Keating works with the Ally Centre and the opiate recovery program. At a time when efforts are being made to dispel stigma associated with mental health and addiction issues, she said it’s frustrating to see the lack of access to services.
“A patient in Cape Breton, on average, waits 247 days longer than a patient in Halifax to be seen by a mental health team,” Keating said.
“It’s like writing a prescription to a medication that is vital to recovery and dating it for nine months in the future.”
Dr. Mike MacDonald has been a family doctor in the area since last year and also works in the emergency department at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital. He said the area recently failed to recruit two young geriatricians despite Cape Breton being their top choice. Cape Breton is also on the verge of losing another service in child and adolescent psychiatry, he noted.
As someone who is included among the recently recruited complement of doctors, MacDonald described recruitment efforts as lacklustre as best, saying it was fellow doctors that recruited him. He asked that the Nova Scotia Health Authority take a number of steps including creating a recruitment position for a local doctor and giving them flexibility to do something new, and moving decision-making power to the level of the site lead.
Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie will hold a health-care rally Saturday evening in Glace Bay beginning at 7 p.m. at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 3.
Dr. Mike MacDonald, a family doctor who also works in the emergency department at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, speaks during a press conference held by a number of local doctors Friday at Health Park in Sydney. The doctors called the press conference to alert the public to the impending departure of six additional physicians who practise in areas including ophthalmology, radiology, psychiatry and family medicine.