The emergency department at the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney, N.S., has been closed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and a local doctor says it's not likely to reopen.
Dr. Stacy MacDonald, a family physician and site lead at the community hospital, said the Nova Scotia government's health-care redevelopment plans for Cape Breton include some kind of acute care in North Sydney.
"We are planning future changes to this to see how we can meet more urgent needs of our community in terms of same-day access and helping patients not have to go to the emergency room in Sydney, if possible," MacDonald said.
However, people needing health care in North Sydney have not had to go without some kind of help, she said.
In response to COVID-19, the Nova Scotia Health Authority closed the Northside ER and shifted emergency staff over to the regional hospital in Sydney.
That move was also aimed at the problem of having not enough doctors and nurses to fill emergency department shifts, although that lack is still ongoing.
At the same time, the province established one of several COVID-19 assessment centres at the Northside hospital.
Once the number of coronavirus cases subsided, though, the hospital kept busy helping orphan patients without a family doctor, MacDonald said.
Nova Scotia Health tried to contact the 580 people living in the Northside catchment area and registered with the 811 list waiting for a family doctor to offer virtual and in-person appointments, the health authority said in an email, and 81 people have used the service so far.
The COVID assessment site is still testing patients as needed and still examining patients who may need treatment, MacDonald said.
It is also ready to ramp up again, especially as the province opens up to travellers.
"There's always a risk of contracting COVID as this occurs, which is why the primary assessment centres still have to remain open," she said.
"If you wait for numbers to start climbing up again, it's almost already too late."
New construction coming
The province expects to start construction later this year on a new health-care facility to replace the Northside hospital.
It is expected to house long-term care and a community health centre, as well as a central laundry facility for Cape Breton hospitals.
MacDonald said it will also have some kind of acute care component.
"It's not the same as a regional emergency department," she said.
"That requires specific staff with specific training and as you know from before the pandemic, we've been having issues with having enough people to keep all of the emergency departments open."
MacDonald said it's still in the planning stage, but the goal is to have something available in North Sydney later this year.
"I don't know exactly if it's going to be emergency care or primary care or both, but there's going to be something that we can offer and that's what we're working through now," she said.
"It will not look like the emergency department from before. It won't be exactly the same."
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