Doctors in Baddeck, N.S., say they're struggling to keep pace with a big increase in the number of people visiting the local emergency department at Victoria County Memorial Hospital from other parts of Cape Breton.
Dr. David Heughan, a family doctor in Baddeck, says people are driving from as far away as Louisbourg and Eskasoni, more than an hour and a half away.
That's because of the frequent ER closures in Glace Bay, North Sydney and New Waterford, and long waits at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney.
Heughan said the number of patients at the Baddeck ER was more than 700 this May, compared to about 400 the same month one year ago. Between 50 and 85 percent are from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, he said.
That's putting tremendous pressure on the four family doctors, who cover off the Baddeck ER while juggling their own practices.
"In small hospitals like this it's not a defined emergency shift where that's what you do exclusively," said Heughan. "We're also obliged to run an office practice at the same time as well as covering the nursing home that's in our town as well. So it means if we're really busy in one place, we can't do other commitments."
Heughan said that means Baddeck doctors are routinely putting in 16 hour days, dividing their time between their own patients and the ER cases.
"Certainly our days are busier and our nights become busier, and sleep becomes less, which obviously impacts what we're able to do the next day as well," said Heughan.
He said that will likely lead to ER closures in Baddeck, as doctors find they cannot keep pace.
"We really just can't sustain those kind of numbers."
Chris Milburn, the chief of emergency medicine for the eastern zone of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, calls it a "tough situation."
The Baddeck ER is not set up to serve as the "overflow" for the CBRM, he said.
"Kudos to them, they've just sort of sucked it up thus far and dealt with it. But they're getting run down and it's not sustainable for them to do that," said Milburn.
Few options available
Milburn said there are few options to resolve the situation, as there's no way to restrict people from other communities from visiting the Baddeck ER.
"It's Canada, people are free to go where they want," he said. "We can't tell people from Louisbourg, you can't go to Baddeck."
Milburn said the health authority will try to find doctors to fill some ER shifts in Baddeck.
But he said with a worldwide shortage of emergency doctors, and ongoing ER shutdowns in the CBRM, there "will be some closures, there's no way around that."
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