Cape Bre­ton­ers protest health care

Health min­is­ter says work is un­der­way to im­prove health care de­liv­ery in the re­gion

The Casket - - Health&wellness - SAM MACDON­ALD sam­mac­don­[email protected]­cas­ket.ca

The wind was cut­ting. Half­way across the Canso Cause­way, the snow came in heavy flur­ries. But the win­try weather did not de­ter the pug­na­cious spirit of the group of Cape Bre­ton res­i­dents who say they are frus­trated with the Nova Sco­tia govern­ment’s ap­proach to health ser­vices.

The protestors, who shut down the cause­way for an hour Nov. 16, had a mes­sage, and they were go­ing to share it, what­ever the weather; the stan­dard of health­care in Cape Bre­ton is not enough and the provin­cial govern­ment has to do bet­ter.

Shortly af­ter 11 a.m. Fri­day, a pa­rade of mem­bers of Capers 4 Health­care, an ad­vo­cacy group fight­ing for a bet­ter stan­dard of health­care in the area, as well as their sup­port­ers, gath­ered at the Cape Bre­ton side of the cause­way.

More than 150 peo­ple marched and drove across the cause­way chant­ing to ex­press their dis­con­tent, ac­com­pa­nied by the sound of a sin­gle dron­ing bag­pipe as they made their way across the Strait of Canso.

Be­fore and af­ter the pro­ces­sion, passersby honked to show sup­port. Orig­i­nally, the plan for the rally was to bring the con­ver­sa­tion to the doorstep of the De­part­ment of Heath, tak­ing the rally to Antigonish, and the of­fice of Randy Delorey, MLA and Health Min­is­ter.

How­ever, the weather, which took a turn for the worse with more blow­ing snow, pre­vented that from hap­pen­ing. Par­tic­i­pants in the march headed home af­ter cross­ing the cause­way in­stead of mak­ing the trek to Antigonish.

Ron­ald Crowther, chair of Capers 4 Health­care, said he was very proud of the peo­ple who marched through Fri­day morn­ing’s ugly con­di­tions.

"A lot of this is due to a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the pre­mier," Crowther said of the protest. "We weren’t given a fame of time [for the hos­pi­tal clo­sures.] Peo­ple are in limbo. That’s why we held our first town hall, and [the govern­ment] didn’t come – so we went to them."

Al­though con­di­tions were hardly ideal for a march, Crowther re­minded the Cas­ket, "we’re all Cape Bre­ton­ers, and we deal with weather like that on a daily ba­sis."

There was also a sig­nif­i­cant union pres­ence among the marchers, with mem­bers of unions such as the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees (CUPE) and Nova Sco­tia Govern­ment and Gen­eral Em­ploy­ees Union (NSGEU), present and waving their flags.

Once the pro­ces­sion reached the other end of the cause­way, sev­eral Cape Bre­ton res­i­dents shared their per­spec­tives on how a lack of ac­cess to health­care has af­fected their lives.

"We need to fix this," Becky An­thony, a Cape Bre­ton res­i­dent, para­medic of 20 years and marcher in Fri­day’s rally, said, speak­ing to fel­low marchers on the Auld’s Cove side of the cause­way.

An­thony shared an ac­count of how her son, who needed ur­gent med­i­cal treat­ment, but was un­able to get it, fac­ing "wall-to-wall peo­ple" in an over­crowded Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Hos­pi­tal wait­ing room. There was no room at the hos­pi­tal to ac­com­mo­date him for proper treat­ment – and on top of that, she and her son faced a six-hour wait be­fore an am­bu­lance was avail­able to bring them to the IWK in Hal­i­fax.

"I don’t blame the health­care work­ers for this, I blame the sys­tem. There were so many peo­ple in the wait­ing room that day. It’s very un­for­tu­nate, be­cause very soon, some­one’s go­ing to slip through the cracks," An­thony said. "Some peo­ple don’t have the means to put a child in their car to get into Hal­i­fax. That can’t hap­pen any­more."

An­thony blamed a lack of long-term care beds in Cape Bre­ton as part of the rea­son for the mas­sive back­log in the pro­vi­sion of ser­vices at Cape Bre­ton hos­pi­tals.

"The con­cerns in Cape Bre­ton are shared with many Nova Sco­tians," Antigonish MLA and Health Min­is­ter Randy Delorey said, in a call with the Cas­ket.

"We know the sta­tus quo for health­care in Nova Sco­tia is not work­ing for Cape Bre­ton­ers," Delorey said, re­fer­ring to the

Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity Health­care Re­de­vel­op­ment Pro­ject. He noted the pro­ject aims to im­prove de­liv­ery of health­care, by ex­pand­ing two emer­gency de­part­ments at Cape Bre­ton Re­gional and Glace Bay hos­pi­tals, dou­bling the size of the can­cer cen­tre and in­tro­duc­ing a com­mu­nity-based paramedicine pro­gram.

"We’re cre­at­ing two new com­mu­nity health cen­tres in New Water­ford and North Syd­ney, of­fer­ing many of the same ser­vices of­fered [at hos­pi­tals in those lo­ca­tions] to­day," Delorey said.

In ad­di­tion, Delorey noted the govern­ment is work­ing on cre­at­ing more long-term care beds in Cape Bre­ton com­mu­ni­ties, and plan­ning more specifics, in co­op­er­a­tion with health­care au­thor­i­ties.

A piv­otal is­sue in Cape Bre­ton that in­spired Fri­day’s protest is a lack of physi­cians in the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Delorey said the govern­ment has been work­ing to re­cruit and re­tain doc­tors, with seven new fam­ily physi­cians and sev­eral spe­cial­ists hired since April.

"We have made changes to our in­cen­tive and com­pen­sa­tion pro­grams based on feed­back from Nova Sco­tian doc­tors," Delorey noted, adding that work is un­der­way to im­ple­ment sug­ges­tions on how to im­prove psy­chi­atric ser­vices in Cape Bre­ton as well, con­sult­ing psy­chi­atric pro­fes­sion­als.

This is not the last the govern­ment will hear from Capers 4 Health­care. Crowther said the group plans to meet again in the com­ing weeks, to plan some­thing for the fu­ture.

"Maybe next time it will be a straight shot to Antigonish, or one of the MLA of­fices in Cape Bre­ton," Crowther said. "Hope­fully, with the at­ten­tion to­day’s event draws, we’ll get a re­quest from the pre­mier or min­is­ter to talk – or a com­mu­nity event where we can in­vite mem­bers."

The an­nounce­ment of the plan to close two hos­pi­tals in Cape Bre­ton – one in New Water­ford and the other in North Syd­ney – was one of the main mo­ti­va­tors for the rally at the cause­way. Crowther said a short­age of physi­cians prac­tic­ing in Cape Bre­ton lead­ing to health­care be­ing spread thin, specif­i­cally for ru­ral res­i­dents, was an­other mo­ti­va­tor.

"The hos­pi­tal in New Water­ford sees about 10,000 peo­ple an­nu­ally. To close that hos­pi­tal and send those peo­ple 30, 40, some­times 50 min­utes away, de­pend­ing on where they live – peo­ple aren’t ac­cept­ing that," Crowther said.

"Ev­ery­one on those buses to­day had in­di­vid­ual rea­sons for get­ting on the buses and tak­ing part. This physi­cian short­age has left a lot of peo­ple with­out fam­ily doc­tors, and se­niors with­out cars are look­ing at hav­ing to take a taxi, $35 each way, to [Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Hos­pi­tal], when they were, be­fore, able to take the cab for $7 to the North Side Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal. That’s a big prob­lem."

Some of the many protestors as­so­ci­ated with Capers 4 Health­care who marched across the Canso Cause­way on Fri­day morn­ing, to call at­ten­tion to the prob­lems with health­care in Cape Bre­ton.

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