MLA calls for more information about efforts to address emergency department closures

·4 min read
Annapolis MLA Carman Kerr wants officials from the Health Department and Nova Scotia Health to visit his area to provide an update on efforts to address chronic emergency department closures. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Annapolis MLA Carman Kerr wants officials from the Health Department and Nova Scotia Health to visit his area to provide an update on efforts to address chronic emergency department closures. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Carman Kerr understands emergency department closures are a reality across Nova Scotia and across the country as the health-care system copes with worker shortages and burnout.

But the MLA for Annapolis is concerned about the lack of information for people in his area about what's in the works to address chronic closures in Annapolis County.

"We're pushing for more information," the Liberal MLA said in a phone interview Thursday.

"We, the public, would like to know what's going on, what's the plan, what's been tried, what has failed, where are we going — those kinds of questions."

The collaborative emergency centre at the Annapolis Community Health Centre in Annapolis Royal is closed 24/7, while the emergency department at Middleton's Soldiers Memorial Hospital is only open each day from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Michael Gorman/CBC
Michael Gorman/CBC

That leaves people in the area requiring urgent care to drive to the emergency department in Digby — a site that deals with its own closures at times — or Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville.

Kerr wants officials with the Health Department and Nova Scotia Health to come to the area for public information sessions to help people understand what's happening and what are realistic expectations.

"I think people can handle a lot," he said. "We've been through a lot as Nova Scotians and we're no different down here. So I think people deserve the courtesy for the decision makers to be straight.

"The fact that there's no communication is the problem. It just builds the anxiety and the stress."

Like most emergency departments experiencing closures, Kerr said the problem in his area often has to do with the availability of doctors and or nurses.

In Annapolis Royal, there are also problems with the availability of X-ray services and reliable ambulance service, he said.

Plan in the works for Annapolis Royal

One option could be to bolster services at the hospital in Digby to ensure more consistency there, but Kerr said that's the kind of thing officials should be discussing with the public.

On Thursday, it was announced the emergency department at Digby General would be closed overnight on Saturday and Sunday, as well as several times next week.

A spokesperson for the health authority said in a statement that officials recognize the difficulty the uncertainty creates for people in Annapolis County, but plans are in the works to provide "the highest level of service we can for the community" in the fall.

"Nova Scotia Health is working on an interim walk-in service for the site a couple of days per week," John Gillis said in the statement.

"Details are coming together and we will share information with the community as soon as possible. We have a planning table established to begin to explore future models of care for the Annapolis Community Health Centre."

Gillis said officials with the health authority have had multiple meetings since the spring with community leaders, community agencies, pharmacists and systems partners. In the interim, he said nurses have been reassigned to support the Digby emergency department being opened. More resources have also been invested in the primary care clinic in Middleton.

Along with adds in community papers and flyers to inform the public where they can get care, Gillis said health authority officials expect to hold community stakeholder sessions in the fall and they've offered to attend a municipal council meeting.

Closures are a common problem

The problems in Annapolis County are hardly unique.

This week alone there are emergency department and after-hours clinic closures in Shelburne, Liverpool, Wolfville, Tatamagouche, Pugwash, Glace Bay, New Waterford, Baddeck, Port Hawkesbury, Canso, Neils Harbour, Middle Musquodoboit, Musquodoboit Harbour and Sheet Harbour.

Although some closures are scheduled, many of them are not. And while pressures on the system have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency department closures have been a chronic problem in Nova Scotia for years.

More recently, reports are increasing of people leaving emergency departments without being seen because of the long waits they are experiencing.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson said in December that she's looking to maximize available resources to provide the best possible service to people across the province.

The reality is some emergency departments are much busier than others. The government introduced urgent treatment centres in North Sydney and Parrsboro as a way to help those communities, a model that could be expanded elsewhere.

Thompson said at the time that it is important for communities to be informed and involved with what's happening in their respective areas as steps are taken to try to improve the system.

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