Cry for help

Area ral­lies de­mand bet­ter health-care ser­vices.

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAR­RELL COLE dar­rell.cole@amher­st­news.ca Twit­ter: @ADN­dar­rell

Cum­ber­land County res­i­dents con­tinue to send a mes­sage to the prov­ince about the state of their health care.

Less than a week af­ter close to 500 peo­ple at­tended a rally on the lawn of the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre in Amherst, another 300 or show voiced their frus­tra­tions dur­ing a sim­i­lar rally by the North Cum­ber­land Memo­rial Col­lab­o­ra­tive Emer­gency Cen­tre in Pugwash.

“Peo­ple are not happy with what’s hap­pen­ing,” said Kathy Red­mond, a former Cum­ber­land mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lor and Pugwash vil­lage com­mis­sioner, who or­ga­nized the rally. “There are no physi­cians and no cov­er­age. It’s get­ting frus­trat­ing.”

Pugwash, much like All Saints in Springhill and the South Cum­ber­land CEC in Parrs­boro, have seen nu­mer­ous clo­sures of the emer­gency de­part­ments. These clo­sures are not only frus­trat­ing for res­i­dents, Red­mond said, it’s plac­ing ad­di­tional strain on the re­gion’s big­gest emer­gency room in Amherst.

“We just can’t con­tinue on this way,” Red­mond said. “The frus­tra­tion level is high and … that’s not only plac­ing a bur­den on the doc­tors who are here, but on the nurses be­cause when peo­ple come in ex­pect­ing a doc­tor to be there, they lash out at the nurse be­cause there’s noth­ing they can do.”

Af­ter 8 p.m. there is paramedic/reg­is­tered nurse cov­er­age, but Red­mond said there have been nights that’s not avail­able ei­ther. Another is­sue is the avail­abil­ity of am­bu­lances. She said there have been times when an am­bu­lance has been called to trans­fer a pa­tient, but none are avail­able un­less it’s an emer­gency.

Red­mond, who headed a lo­cal health com­mit­tee sev­eral years ago dur­ing another pe­riod of

fre­quent ER clo­sures, said one is­sue is the prov­ince can­celled the ru­ral ER locum pro­gram that helped en­tice doc­tors from larger cen­tres to cover ER shifts in places like Pugwash.

“We re­ally need that pro­gram back,” Red­mond said. “When the in­cen­tive was taken away sev­eral years ago that’s when things started fall­ing apart. Un­til we find a so­lu­tion they need to put that pro­gram back in place, even if it’s tem­po­rary.”

Red­mond said the sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated adding some of the doc­tors ser­vic­ing Pugwash have their own health is­sues.

“There’s only so much they can do, they’re hu­man too,” Red­mond said.

Un­like ral­lies in Amherst and Springhill, the rally in Pugwash was com­pletely non-po­lit­i­cal with only Red­mond and a trio of doc­tors speak­ing.

A new health-care fa­cil­ity was an­nounced for Pugwash prior

to last year’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion. That fa­cil­ity is still in the plan­ning phase and ground likely won’t be bro­ken un­til next year.

At the Aug. 22 rally, both Cum­ber­land North MLA El­iz­a­beth Smith-McCrossin and Cum­ber­land South MLA Tory Rush­ton urged peo­ple to speak up.

“We need you to stand with us and to have your voices heard,” the Cum­ber­land North MLA said. “We have to send a mes­sage to the premier that we live in a democ­racy and let’s make sure we use it.”

Dr. Mur­ray McCrossin and Dr. Brian Fer­gu­son were joined by ob­ste­tri­cian Dr. He­len Sand­land in urg­ing the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to give the re­gional hospi­tal the sup­port it needs to main­tain its re­gional sta­tus.

The hospi­tal has seen sev­eral doc­tors and specialists leave in re­cent months and those who re­main are working ex­tra shifts to main­tain the emer­gency depart­ment

around the clock and to of­fer spe­cialty ser­vices a re­gional fa­cil­ity must have.

Rush­ton said the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment needs to know how im­por­tant health care is in Cum­ber­land County.

“The premier needs to know that while we’re on the New Bruns­wick side of the Cobe­quid Pass, we’re also on the Nova Sco­tia side of the New Bruns­wick bor­der,” Rush­ton said. “This isn’t about pol­i­tics, it’s about do­ing the right thing for the peo­ple of Cum­ber­land County.

“Sev­eral weeks ago there was a story on the news about an ER clo­sure in Nova Sco­tia. Here in Cum­ber­land County that’s not breaking news, it’s some­thing we have to deal with ev­ery day.”

Fer­gu­son said doc­tors and other health pro­fes­sion­als have been de­fend­ing the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the hospi­tal, now it’s time for the pub­lic to join the fray.

“We need you to get away from your com­put­ers and get out and start meet­ing, talk­ing and rep­re­sent­ing your­selves,” said Fer­gu­son, who an­nounced re­cently that un­less the sit­u­a­tion im­proves he will be leav­ing Amherst af­ter more than 30 years.

Fer­gu­son said the pro­vin­cial Lib­er­als came into power in 2013 and im­me­di­ately wiped out all the gains made by ru­ral hos­pi­tals by cen­tral­iz­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion in Hal­i­fax with dis­as­trous re­sults in places like Amherst and Cum­ber­land County.

Dr. Sand­land said doc­tors like her are get­ting tired.

“I just fin­ished 21 days straight of be­ing on call and that’s the norm be­cause we’re short­staffed,” she said. “We’re try­ing to re­cruit peo­ple to come to Cum­ber­land County, and I love it here, but it’s hard to re­cruit peo­ple when they’re go­ing to have to come here and work these types of hours. But we need the peo­ple to pro­vide the care.”

While he didn’t speak at the rally, Amherst Mayor Dr. David Ko­gon is­sued a state­ment on be­half of his coun­cil.

“We pointed out to the min­is­ter that … the ci­ti­zens of Amherst and Cum­ber­land County de­serve high-qual­ity health-care ser­vices that are equal to those re­ceived by ci­ti­zens in other parts of the prov­ince,” Ko­gon said in his state­ment, re­fer­ring to a re­cent meet­ing with Health and Well­ness Min­is­ter Randy Delorey. “We fur­ther pointed that fail­ing to keep the Cum­ber­land Health Care Cen­tre a Level 2 re­gional fa­cil­ity would cre­ate fi­nan­cial hard­ships for many of our ci­ti­zens, par­tic­u­larly those liv­ing in poverty, who would face fi­nan­cial hard­ship by be­ing forced to travel greater dis­tances for rou­tine med­i­cal pro­ce­dures. The min­is­ter con­curred. To me that is re­as­sur­ing.”

Out­spo­ken Amherst physi­cian Dr. Brian Fer­gu­son and Health and Well­ness Min­is­ter Randy Delorey fi­nally have had the chance to talk about health care.

The Amherst doc­tor, who has threat­ened to leave his prac­tice over what he sees as the degra­da­tion of ser­vices at the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre, re­cently had an hour-long con­ver­sa­tion with the min­is­ter.

“It was a very good con­ver­sa­tion,” Fer­gu­son told the Amherst News. “We talked not just about the sit­u­a­tion in Cum­ber­land County specif­i­cally but about the sit­u­a­tion across Nova Sco­tia, like in Syd­ney where they are get­ting ham­mered.”

Fer­gu­son, who is­sued his ul­ti­ma­tum a cou­ple of weeks ago to de­part the prov­ince, was front and cen­tre dur­ing a re­cent health­care rally on the front lawn of the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre.

“We should be able to pro­vide in­ter­ven­tional health care to sick peo­ple within one and a half hours of their home. I think Randy Delorey will de­liver that and say­ing that I be­lieve that proves the wor­thi­ness of our hospi­tal and pro­tects us,” Fer­gu­son said. “I think the tide will change that way.”

He is urg­ing Health and Well­ness, Doc­tors Nova Sco­tia and the pro­vin­cial re­cruiter to get to­gether and find a so­lu­tion. He thinks it’s pos­si­ble.

Delorey said he’s well aware of the sit­u­a­tion faced by staff at the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre and his depart­ment is working with the Nova Sco­tia Health Au­thor­ity and the pro­vin­cial re­cruiter to al­le­vi­ate the pres­sures. “I’ve been up to Amherst and Cum­ber­land re­gional a num­ber of times over the sum­mer. Ear­lier in the sum­mer I heard from the nurses in the med­i­cal unit who had some con­cerns,” Delorey said. “The feedback was pos­i­tive and the NSHA has re­sponded in a way that they were lis­tened to and heard.”

The min­is­ter said he has heard from com­mu­nity groups and pro­fes­sion­als who have con­cerns. Peo­ple have sug­ges­tions and he’s open to hear­ing them.

“There are a lot of things un­der­way and there are a num­ber of things that are be­ing eval­u­ated, looked at and be read­ied to roll out,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done and we are working on it.”

Among the ini­tia­tives al­ready an­nounced was the hir­ing of a sec­ond doc­tor re­cruiter for the north­ern zone, while two of 10 new spa­ces for Dal­housie Univer­sity’s Fam­ily Res­i­dency Train­ing Pro­gram will be in Amherst.

His depart­ment has funded six nurse prac­ti­tion­ers and five fam­ily prac­tice nurses for the north­ern zone over the last two years and is chang­ing the way the med­i­cal unit at Cum­ber­land re­gional is staffed to bet­ter meet the needs of pa­tients, it is of­fer­ing an emer­gency shift pre­mium to help fill hard-to-fill ER shifts and is en­hanc­ing its locum pro­gram to help with short and long-term va­can­cies at the re­gional hospi­tal.

He said the res­i­dency pro­gram should pay dividends be­cause 75 per cent of those doc­tors tend to stay in the area they com­pleted their res­i­dency train­ing. He’s op­ti­mistic that will be the case in Amherst.

“When these res­i­dents are do­ing their train­ing they will be pro­vid­ing pri­mary care un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a fam­ily physi­cian that’s sup­port­ing them in pro­vid­ing care to the peo­ple of Cum­ber­land and the other ar­eas,” he said. “In ad­di­tion, when they fin­ish their train­ing they’re more likely to stay and set up prac­tices in those com­mu­ni­ties.”

Delorey said he is com­mit­ted to working to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion across the prov­ince, but stressed so­lu­tions won’t hap­pen overnight be­cause many of the is­sues have been build­ing over years.

He also said lo­cal com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as Cum­ber­land’s task force, do have a role to play in re­cruit­ing by help­ing sell their com­mu­nity to po­ten­tial re­cruits.

“They pro­vide value in working with the re­cruit­ing team at the NSHA. It’s a great op­por­tu­nity for col­lab­o­ra­tion,” the min­is­ter said.

DAR­RELL COLE – AMHERST NEWS

Dr. Brian Fer­gu­son ad­dresses a large crowd at a re­cent health care rally in front of the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre. The crowd, es­ti­mated at more than 500, lis­tened to doc­tors talk about the need for more sup­port for the county’s lone re­gional hospi­tal that is strug­gling with a short­age of physi­cians and de­clin­ing pro­grams and ser­vices.

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