Good will, credibility lacking
A storehouse full of good will and credibility is a handy asset for a government that intends to fundamentally alter essential public services in a community.
But the Nova Scotia government had none of that when, in June, Premier Stephen McNeil, along with a coterie of ministers and Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) types arrived in Sydney to announce the closure of hospitals in North Sydney and New Waterford as part of the “redevelopment” of the medical infrastructure in industrial Cape Breton.
Even before the announcement, public confidence in health care in the region was pretty much exhausted. Doctor shortages, long waits for many procedures and disappearing specialties had taken a toll on patients and providers alike.
The almost clandestine nature of the government’s announcement – the local medical community and health workers’ unions were given a few hours notice and there was no prior consultation – only added to the anger and angst in the affected communities.
Since the announcement, a grassroots group called Capers 4 Healthcare has spearheaded public events to draw attention to what it sees as a steady decline in medical services in the region. When Health Minister Randy Delorey declined numerous invitations to attend those events, the group decided to take their case directly to him at his Antigonish constituency office.
That plan was recently short-circuited by stormy weather that forced the group to turn for home, but not before it closed the Canso Causeway for an hour while about 150 people marched from the Cape Breton side to the mainland to draw attention to deteriorating health services on the island.
The atmosphere surrounding the province’s plans for new and renovated health facilities in Cape Breton County, and the environment that engulfs its more ambitious plans to redevelop medical facilities in and around Halifax, couldn’t be more different. Nor is that difference lost on those advocating for better service in Cape Breton.
Three months after their Sydney announcement, the premier and many of the same characters gathered in Halifax to announce plans to move services and replace facilities now located at the Victoria General campus of the QEII.
In Halifax, McNeil was surrounded by supportive medical staff who’d been involved in planning for the new facilities in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Whether the plans for the Cape Breton redevelopment had a better chance of gaining wider public acceptance if the province and the NSHA were as collegial in Cape Breton as they were in Halifax, we’ll never know.
But there is no doubt the impression left in Cape Breton is that decisions that will determine the state of health care there for generations are made in Halifax and foisted on the people of the region.
It’s left to the locals in the eastern zone of the NSHA to try to clean up after their bosses are back in their cushy Halifax of- fices, and that’s exactly what those officials are trying to do. They are involving the local medical community and other key constituents in planning for the expansion of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and the Glace Bay Hospital, likely two years away.
New community health centres are planned for North Sydney and New Waterford, staffed by collaborative care teams of doctors, nurses, social workers and other health professionals. Community-based services like mental health and addictions treatment, diabetes education, and day clinics will be located at the new centres, as will blood collection and diagnostic imaging.
But once the Northside and New Waterford hospitals close, the region’s emergency departments, surgical services and in-patient beds will all be located at the Cape Breton Regional and Glace Bay hospitals.
A new community-based paramedic program will go into action in Cape Breton County to fill the service gaps created by the loss of the Northside and New Waterford hospitals. The province is also planning to add long-term care beds in North Sydney and New Waterford.
Officials of the eastern zone of the NSHA are working to rebuild trust and try to sell the redevelopment to a community that stretches more than 60 kilometres from Point Aconi to Port Morien. It’s a tough sell in a region where health-care services are already seen as inadequate.