Month-long closure of Sheet Harbour emergency room has area residents concerned

On Dec. 28, Nova Scotia Health announced the emergency room at Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital would be closed from Jan. 1 until Jan. 31.  (www.nshealth.ca - image credit)
On Dec. 28, Nova Scotia Health announced the emergency room at Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital would be closed from Jan. 1 until Jan. 31. (www.nshealth.ca - image credit)

Residents are calling a month-long closure of the emergency department at the Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital in Sheet Harbour, N.S., "unacceptable" and "dangerous."

"I think we're in a lot of trouble down on the Eastern Shore when it comes to health care and I also think that you're going to have to plan your emergency for February," Mary Simpson said in an interview Saturday.

On Dec. 28, Nova Scotia Health released a public service advisory that the emergency department at Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital would be closed for all of January.

Simpson, who lives in Moser River, said the hospital's emergency department has often been closed over the last few months.

A report on the state of the province's emergency departments revealed that the Eastern Shore department was closed for nearly 6,100 hours in the 2020-2021 year, making it the most affected hospital as it was open for just 30 per cent of its scheduled hours.

Travel time doubles

Simpson said she's particularly concerned about the closure because the hospital's emergency department is often filled with older residents looking for care.

The next closest emergency department is in Sherbrooke, N.S., at St. Mary's Memorial Hospital, Simpson added, which doubles the travel time.

She said residents have taken to social media to air their concerns.

"Several people have posted on Facebook that they're very concerned about this and that it's scandalous and unacceptable and it's dangerous," she said.

Doctor away for January

District 2 Coun. David Hendsbee said in an interview Saturday he's been in contact with the community advisory committee for the hospital. He said the emergency department's doctor is scheduled for vacation in January.

That isn't the only factor, he added, as staffing in more rural parts of the province has been struggling due to issues around funding to the staffing structure.

"A lot of people are aware that the hospital's not available and that they have to prepare themselves" to go elsewhere, Hendsbee said.

In an email, Nova Scotia Health spokesperson Krista Keough said: "Emergency department closures occur for various reasons, however, most often they are due to physician/staff availability."

The statement also reads residents experiencing medical emergencies should contact 911.

"Even when a local emergency department is closed, we'd like to remind people that the overall emergency system is never closed. Paramedics will make the call as to the most appropriate site to take people," Keough said.

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