Good will, cred­i­bil­ity lack­ing

Annapolis Valley Register - - NEWS - Jim Vib­ert, a jour­nal­ist and writer for longer than he cares to ad­mit, con­sulted or worked for five Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ments. He now keeps a close and crit­i­cal eye on pro­vin­cial and re­gional pow­ers.

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.

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