Some Halifax doctors raise alarm about potential for injuries during student street parties

Police kept as watchful eye on a student party in Halifax last year. Dr. Caitlin Lees says several students were injured and needed medical attention during the festivities.  (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
Police kept as watchful eye on a student party in Halifax last year. Dr. Caitlin Lees says several students were injured and needed medical attention during the festivities. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

Doctors in Halifax are concerned that unsanctioned street parties ringing in the return of university students could put unnecessary stress on an already strained emergency system.

This comes as the peninsula's universities begin to fill up with students for the start of the school year, including Dalhousie University. Last year, thousands of students took to the streets in parts of central Halifax to party during the fourth weekend of September.

Dr. Caitlin Lees, a palliative care and internal medicine physician with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said a massive group of revellers gathered in the Larch Street area last year and a number of people were injured after jumping  from balconies and trees. Others needed medical attention due to alcohol intoxication.

The large crowd made it difficult for emergency services to get to students who required medical attention and drew in "significant" police resources.

"This year, we know that it's likely to happen again," Lees said. "There's no capacity," she said of Nova Scotia's health care system.

"An event like this where there's likely to be multiple people requiring hospital admissions or, at least, emergency care for intoxication or injuries from unsafe behaviour, that has father-reaching consequences than just for the people in the immediate neighbourhood or for the student that has injured themselves."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

The crisis in emergency rooms has been building since before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but staffing shortages combined with fewer family doctors have led to increased numbers of people seeking care at an ER. Now, emergency rooms across the province are at their limit.

"Emergency services are overwhelmed at this present time," said Dr. George Kovacs, the trauma team leader at the Halifax Infirmary.

"When I say emergency services, we're talking about police, we're talking about pre-hospital paramedics and we're talking about the emergency department."

Injuries 'preventable'

Kovacs echoed Lees' concern about street parties drawing scarce services away from other emergencies.

"Our job is, and always will be, to look after those who need our services that are ill and injured. And we're not there to judge, we're there to look after them. But a lot of these things are preventable."

He expects to see the emergency rooms filled with people who have misused substances if the street parties go ahead.

Dalhousie announced earlier this year it would create a "collaborative framework" to address "high-risk student behaviour" in the neighborhood around the campus.

On Tuesday, an independent report on community engagement with street party culture outlined six recommendations, including improving communication between students, neighbours and other stakeholders, and facilitating more official activities and events around "trouble periods," like fall and St. Patrick's Day.

The report, by non-profit community organization Inspiring Communities, also recommended placing more garbage bins, portable toilets and cheap food in the area to mitigate damage.

Mark Doiron/Radio-Canada
Mark Doiron/Radio-Canada

Dalhousie said it's working with Halifax Regional Police to monitor "unsafe student behaviour" ahead of the fall semester.

"Dalhousie does not host a sanctioned homecoming event in the fall and it does not condone any kind of illegal street party," university spokesperson Janet Bryson said in an emailed statement.

"Considerable efforts are made by the university to proactively monitor and communicate the potential risks involving unsafe student behaviour on and off campus, and through regular check-ins with HRP."

Halifax Regional Police Const. John MacLeod said in an email police are currently drafting a brochure to "inform students and citizens on common offences and potential consequences." He added that citizens are encouraged to report any concerns about noise, public impairment and safety.

MacLeod said police do not provide specifics on operational matters, but HRP will be present in university neighbourhoods as students return to "discourage disruptive behaviour."

CBC News reached out to Dalhousie Student Union, but a representative was not available for comment.