Cape Breton surgeon takes on new role, focused on recruitment, mortality rates

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Dr. Don Brien is a orthopedic surgeon at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, N.S. Six weeks ago, he began a new position as medical executive director for the Nova Scotia health authority’s eastern zone.   (Nova Scotia health authority  - image credit)
Dr. Don Brien is a orthopedic surgeon at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, N.S. Six weeks ago, he began a new position as medical executive director for the Nova Scotia health authority’s eastern zone. (Nova Scotia health authority - image credit)

A Cape Breton surgeon says doctor recruitment and reducing hospital mortality rates will be a focus of his new role.

Dr. Don Brien has been working on the surgical team at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, N.S., since 1998.

Six weeks ago, he became medical executive director for the Nova Scotia health authority's eastern zone.

Originally from Dartmouth, N.S., Brien first arrived at the regional hospital three years after its construction. Now he wants to be a part of the complex's multi-million dollar redevelopment.

The Sydney project is part of a wider plan to improve health care in the region.

"I just came to a point in my career where, you know, I felt I had the knowledge and the skills and the experience," Brien said in an interview with CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

Doctor recruitment, mortality rates

Brien said part of his work will centre on trying to more doctors to the eastern zone. He said a provincial recruitment team is already working hard to fill physician gaps across the province.

"I love this place and I can easily relay that message: 'Hey look, I came here, it's a great place. We've got a great system.' But I think it's just continually making contacts [and] following up on the contacts ... so I think that's all we can do is continue to do is let people know what we have to offer."

Sydney-area hospitals have garnered negative attention in recent years for having mortality rates that are said to be the worst in Canada.

"There is a plan in place right now," said Brien. "Unfortunately, things got slowed down with the pandemic. But you know, identifying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, sepsis — these are all issues that we've identified as a problem. We're setting programs in place to deal with them, so yes, it's very much a concern of mine."

An image provided by the Nova Scotia health authority shows the proposed design for redevelopment at the Cape Breton Regional in Sydney. It shows a certain point in the development process, but is not a strict final design.
An image provided by the Nova Scotia health authority shows the proposed design for redevelopment at the Cape Breton Regional in Sydney. It shows a certain point in the development process, but is not a strict final design.(Nova Scotia health authority )

Brien credits leadership from the health authority's president and chief executive officer, Dr. Brendan Carr, for inspiring him to take on greater responsibility in the region's health-care redevelopment.

"I really saw that he had a vision. I wanted to follow that and join him and his group in trying to improve the health care within our zone."

The project will see the expansion of services at the Glace Bay hospital and the regional hospital in Sydney.

It means community hospitals in New Waterford and North Sydney close. They will be replaced with community health centres and expanded long-term care facilities.

Brien said his work will see him providing oversight on doctor functions and patient services — not only in Cape Breton, but also in Antigonish and Guysborough counties.

An orthopedic surgeon, Brien has taught surgery at Dalhousie University and is a former Olympic kayaker. In 2008, he was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

Brien said he will continue to spend some of his hospital time seeing patients and performing surgeries.

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