Emergency dept. closures remain problem at EMH

·4 min read

GUYSBOROUGH – If you’re a resident of Canso and surrounding area, you would be well advised to keep a close watch on the Nova Scotia Health (NSH) temporary service disruption and facility closure notice website. The emergency department of Eastern Memorial Hospital (EMH) in Canso has most recently been closed overnight from May 27 to 31. Notifications of closures at EMH due to physician shortage are now a regular occurrence.

On the evening of May 31, the Canso Stakeholders Working Group on healthcare met and heard from Bill MacMillan, a member of the Canso Health Care Advocacy Group, who discussed their efforts to work with doctors and staff to improve primary health care in the community.

Unofficial notes from the stakeholders’ meeting posted to the group’s Facebook page by Susan O’Handley stated that all vacant nursing positions were advertised, and one has an applicant. Two new RN graduates have also started orientation at the hospital.

Members of the stakeholders’ group met with Maritime Launch Services, the company proposing to build a spaceport near Canso. O’Handley wrote, “It was a very positive meeting, lots of information shared and questions asked. There is some activity back on the site. A smaller launch is expected in fall of 2023, with larger ones in 2024. A fire department will be one of the first things built.”

Physician openings are also advertised, O’Handley wrote, noting, “There have been three that have shown some interest, which is promising. We will take either a full-time, live in the community doctor, or a doctor willing to work for a week at a time.”

The Journal spoke with MacMillan on June 3 about the physician model of care in Canso, where they have, and have had for many years, a system where doctors are contracted to provide service at EMH, full-time on a one week on, three weeks off rotation.

MacMillan has concerns that the advertisement for physicians in Canso doesn’t clearly explain this model of care. While the ad on the NSH recruitment website does list the position as rotational, it describes it as “week-on/week-off scheduling.”

“It’s a four-week rotation but there was no mention of that in either one of those two job postings …. We’re trying to recruit another doctor, or two doctors, to add to the complement of doctors here in Canso. If we happen to come up with a doctor who wants to live in the community full time, our doctors are prepared to work around that; make adjustments to the way they work. It was our objective, the advocacy group, that we wanted to make sure that they were offering both of those opportunities to anybody who was looking …They don’t really give a fulsome description or fulsome outline of how our team of doctors currently work. I think that still has to be dealt with,” said MacMillan.

The meeting notes also mention an issue with the emergency department closure sign, which was brought up by MacMillan. He told The Journal that it says ‘open’, with a smaller notice below stating the hours of operation. The second half of the information on the sign, said MacMillan, can be missed by people coming to the hospital in an emergency situation, leading to frustration and a delay in care.

To decrease emergency department closures in overnight hours, NSH and Emergency Health Services (EHS) are partnering to provide virtual physician support at EMH, and Buchanan Memorial Community Health Centre in Neil’s Harbour, for use when a physician isn’t available in the community for an extended period of time.

An NSH news release last week explained how the new system would work: “When virtual physician support is in use, patients coming to the emergency department between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. are triaged by a nurse. For patients with less severe injury/illness, the nurse calls the EHS Medical Communications Centre Physician (MCCP) for a virtual consultation. For patients with more severe injury or illness, the local on-call physician comes to the emergency department. Emergencies and ambulances still go to the department…Virtual physician support allows both EHS and Nova Scotia Health to use existing resources to continue to provide service in rural communities instead of needing to close the emergency department.”

While this partnership may help alleviate emergency room closures at EMH for the time being, MacMillan warned that an impending nursing shortage at EMH may limit the viability of the program in coming months.

“The nurses view overall is that they are really battling to try to fill the schedule and there really aren’t enough nurses in the system. And, when the nurses take a look at maternity leaves that are coming up and people that they know are leaving, their commentary is that basically, we’ve got a problem coming here. In the meantime, they’re doing okay…[but] there’s trouble on the horizon,” said MacMillan.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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