ED accountability report highlights gaps in rural care

GUYSBOROUGH – If you live in the Guysborough or Sheet Harbour area and thought your hospital’s emergency department (ED) was closed more often this year than in the past, you’d be right.

At the end of December, Nova Scotia Health released the Annual Accountability Report on Emergency Departments covering the period from April 1, 2021 – March 31, 2022. Over that period, the report shows that the ED at Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital in Sheet Harbour was open 30 per cent of the time. The ED at Guysborough Memorial Hospital was open 77 per cent of the time – statistics that no resident wants to face when they’re having a medical emergency.

Despite the difficulty Canso has seen with physician recruitment, as reported in this newspaper, Eastern Memorial Hospital was open 95 per cent of the time and the community hospital in Sherbrooke, St. Mary’s Memorial Hospital, is recorded as never having a temporary or scheduled ED closure.

The data released last month shows the hours of ED closures in Guysborough and Sheet Harbour are up significantly from previous years, while hospitals in Canso and St. Mary’s have mostly maintained the status quo over the past three reporting periods, spanning from April 2019 to March 2022 (see chart). The most dramatic decline in service is in Sheet Harbour, where open hours decreased from 76 per cent to 30 per cent in 2021-2022.

While ED open hours are an important metric when assessing the delivery of healthcare in the province, ambulance offload times are also important. On that measure, rural hospitals are showing better results. According to the accountability report, the average offload time in minutes for the above hospitals were as follows in the last fiscal year: Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital, 25.9 minutes; Eastern Memorial Hospital, 12 minutes; Guysborough Memorial Hospital, 13 minutes; and St. Mary’s Memorial Hospital, 20.3 minutes. According to the report, “The longest ambulance offload time was 129.4 minutes at the QEII, while the shortest was 7.3 minutes at All Saints Springhill Hospital.”

Another measure that has been added to the accountability report this year is visits to hospital EDs where patients left without being seen. The report stated, “In 2021-2022 there were 536,666 total visits to EDs across NS. During this same time period 43,142 (8.0 per cent) patients who visited EDs left without being seen (LWBS) by staff at an ED. The EDs with the greatest number of patients LWBS are South Shore Regional (15 per cent) and Cape Breton Regional (14.8 per cent).”

None of the hospitals in Guysborough County, or in Sheet Harbour, report any patients leaving the ED without being seen.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal