Doctor shortage means some sick residents won't be allowed back into nursing homes

One of Nova Scotia's largest nursing home operators is warning that residents at facilities in Truro and Debert who are without family doctors will be sent to hospital if they need medical attention, and will not be readmitted afterward to the long-term care homes.

Shannex said Tuesday it is facing a doctor shortage, and there are no longer on-site primary care physicians at Debert Court and at Victoria Way, a section of Cedarstone Enhanced Care in Truro.

Katherine VanBuskirk, director of communications and community affairs for Shannex, said in an email that 61 residents in the Colchester region are affected.

She said over the past number of months, the company has been in touch with other long-term care facilities with similar challenges, the Department of Health and Wellness and the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

The challenges come as the province has faced criticism in recent years for its efforts to recruit more physicians, and tens of thousands of Nova Scotians are on a wait-list for a family doctor.

Type of teleconference proposed 

The health authority is responsible for physician recruitment and Shannex said provincial rules mean that nursing home residents must be "under the care of a qualified medical practitioner."

"As a result, we work closely with our NSHA partners to ensure this requirement is met," VanBuskirk said. "We regret this experience for our residents and families and continue to manage the situation to the best of our abilities."

One solution the company is proposing to the province and the health authority is having physicians available through remote consults via a "virtual platform."

Both Shannex homes have stopped accepting new residents. But people who have a family doctor in the community who will continue to care for them may be accepted on a case-by-case basis, the company said.

Similar problem in Eastern Passage

Ocean View Continuing Care Centre, which is an independent long-term care facility in Eastern Passage, N.S., said it's also struggling to ensure its 177 residents have medical care. Two family doctors have scaled back their practice in the home, the facility's president and CEO, Dion Mouland, said in a release.

The facility stopped accepting new residents at the end of August and four beds are now empty due to the lack of doctors, he said.

"Current Ocean View residents without a physician are also more likely to need to be transferred to emergency or acute care, putting pressure on an already burdened system," Mouland said in the statement, adding that Ocean View notified the province about the problem in June.

Health minister looking into it

Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters he just became aware of the Shannex situation Tuesday morning and didn't know all the details, but said he was looking into it.

"Parts of that doesn't make sense, quite frankly, that if you leave a facility and go to one of our other facilities that you can't transfer back," he said.

"But we know that when we have some physicians that retire in some of our communities that leaves some of our long-term care facilities without services. But the [health] minister is looking into it now to see what we can do in the short term and the long term to ensure we continue to provide those services."

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McNeil said now that a new contract with doctors is in place, they're going to discuss things such as whether a physician who is retiring from their practice could do some work with long-term care patients.

"That's the kind of innovation we're going to have to work on and do," he said.

Barbaba Adams, who is the PC Party's long-term care critic, said in a press release the situation "is a shocking symptom of a crisis that is failing vulnerable citizens."

"Many seniors live in nursing homes because their families can no longer meet their medical needs and doctors are an important part of that care," Adams said. 

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