Health-care cri­sis

Doc­tors sound the alarm on physi­cian de­par­tures

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY NANCY KING

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.





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