Man who waited hours for help after stroke among those voicing frustration with N.S. health care

Charlotte Sabean speaks during a public meeting in Digby, N.S., on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, about the province's health-care system. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
Charlotte Sabean speaks during a public meeting in Digby, N.S., on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, about the province's health-care system. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

In a room full of people with questions about the state of Nova Scotia's health-care system, Bill Willman's might have been the simplest and most direct. That doesn't mean it had an easy answer.

"Why would it take four hours for an ambulance to get there if I'm laying on the floor waiting for them?" he asked senior health officials at a meeting in Digby on Monday.

Willman was one of about 100 people gathered at the local legion hall for the meeting with the province's health minister, deputy health minister and the interim CEO of Nova Scotia Health.

In the quiet voice of someone still recovering, Willman said he waited on the floor two weeks ago after suffering a stroke. When the ambulance arrived, it had to take him an hour down the road to Yarmouth because the emergency department in Digby was closed.

'Unacceptable' situation

Those events followed a stroke two months before that saw Willman taken to hospital in Yarmouth, wait two days to be transferred to Kentville, and then have a required surgery bumped multiple times over four days.

"To come home healing, to have it again, and also wait four hours on a floor is unacceptable," said Willman's wife, Leona Mosher.

These are the challenges of the province's overtaxed health-care system, but they are often felt more acutely in rural communities such as Digby, where there are frequent emergency department closures and difficulty attracting and retaining enough staff, including nurses, doctors and lab technicians.

Charlotte Sabean talked about the need to help people understand how to access the system and navigate it.

Her own family members have been able to get the care they need, sometimes sooner than expected, because of dogged advocacy, said Sabean. But not everyone — particularly seniors — have someone to do that for them or know how to do it for themselves, she said.

"We don't have anybody to support these people. And even if you're younger, so many people — if you're not in it — have no idea what is going on."

Sabean suggested the health authority have navigator positions that can help people demystify the system and understand things such as cancellation lists and how to follow up on their cases to help move files along and keep them from falling through the cracks.

Michael Gorman/CBC
Michael Gorman/CBC

Digby, like other communities across the province, is relying more on pharmacists to provide services for people who don't have family doctors in an effort to keep them from going to busy emergency departments for things such as prescription refills.

But Kristen Sabean, Charlotte Sabean's sister-in-law and a local pharmacist, said the public needs to be educated in the time required for some of that work and pharmacists need to be fairly compensated.

"I can prescribe a year's worth of four different medications for a patient — they could all be different conditions — I could have to look at blood work [and other test results], take their blood pressure … spend an hour on it, and we get a measly $20 for that," she said.

"So for my boss or any owner of a community pharmacy, this is not financially feasible."

Update on electronic records coming soon

Monday's meeting was the latest in a series across the province where senior officials are answering questions, gathering feedback and suggestions, and updating people on what's happening within the system to try to help.

Multiple people talked about the frustration of having to recount their medical history each time they see a new provider, and the idea that such inefficiencies would be removed and the system made more efficient if there were modern, digital health records in the province.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson told CBC News after the meeting that work continues on a one-patient, one-record system and that the public can expect to hear an update soon.