Frustrations mounting with frequent Pugwash ER closures
Provincial report shows emergency department was closed for 2,212 hours
Shock is not a word Kathy Redmond uses when she describes the frequent closures to the emergency department at the North Cumberland Memorial Hospital.
Stats released by Health and Wellness indicate the ER at the Pugwash hospital was closed for more hours than any other hospital in the province between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018.
“Not surprised at all,” said Redmond, a former county councillor and longtime advocate for the hospital in Pugwash. “It’s frustrating for the community and it’s causing a lot of fear and stress because people don’t know if the ER will be there for them when it’s needed.”
She said many people are going to the ER even when it’s closed.
During the 12-month period, the hospital was closed for 2,212 hours. e situation isn’t much better at Cumberland County’s three other rural hospitals. e South Cumberland Community Care Centre in Parrsboro was
closed for 1,784 hours and All Saints Hospital in Springhill was closed 1,530 hours.
The Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre’s ER was never closed, but it saw increased traffic because of the closures at the three other hospitals.
“You never know from one day to the next what’s going on and you’re either paying for an ambulance bill or sitting and waiting in Amherst for four or five hours to be seen,” Redmond said. “This is putting a strain on Amherst, which doesn’t have the doctors or staff it needs to handle the traffic coming from these smaller areas where the hospitals are closed.”
Redmond, who has been a patient at the Pugwash hospital in several occasions, said the issue is not with the staff at the hospital or the community’s doctors. To her it’s not a doctor shortage issue, but one in which the province isn’t communicating with the physicians to determine what is needed to maintain the ERs in rural communities like Pugwash.
Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin wasn’t impressed when she read the report.
“I’m really angry about this,” she said. “One of the things it says in the opening is the health authority consults with the local community to address concerns and identify a course of action. When you look under consultations for Pugwash the only consultations they did for Pugwash was at a meeting I organized on March 25. That’s it. In my opinion, the whole lot of them need to be fired because there’s no accountability. And it’s not just Pugwash, it’s the entire province.”
Smith-McCrossin said the action plan for the northern region does nothing to address physicians and she’s not accepting the assertion there’s a doctor shortage. She blames government for doing things like cutting the rural locum incentive that helped attract doctors to Pugwash and other smaller hospitals.
“Every morning I listen to the radio announcing which hospital ERs are closed and at the end it says it’s due to a doctor shortage, but it’s not due to a doctor shortage. The truth is the province cancelled the locum program that staffed the rural emergency departments,” she said. “Doctors Nova Scotia president Dr. Tim Holland asked the premier to reinstate that program and he refused. He’s blaming it on the doctors and he’s not being truthful. It makes me angry to see him blaming the people who are not at fault.”
Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey said his department and the Nova Scotia Health Authority recognize the challenges of keeping rural ERs open and have taken steps to make sure there is the proper staff compliment in each of the facilities.
The minister said the closures are linked to staffing and are a last resort.
He said the province has changed the compensation model and increased shift premiums for hard-to-fill shifts. He said there have been changes to the locum incentive program that provides support for short and long-term vacancies.
“Since August, there have been approximately 60 emergency room shifts that have been filled because of changes in the locum program,” the minister said. “They are helping keep ERs open.”
Other initiatives include changes to the family medicine residency program that will see six residents go to the northern region. Two of these in the each of the next two years will be based in Amherst.
He said doctors will often stay in the communities as they complete their residency training.
As well, programs are being provided to help international students get their licence with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.