Urgent treatment centre to open in Annapolis Royal next month

A new urgent treatment centre will open next month at the health centre in Annapolis Royal. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
A new urgent treatment centre will open next month at the health centre in Annapolis Royal. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

Sharon Cranton understands there are practical limitations to what's possible for health-care services in her community, but the Belleisle, N.S., resident remains skeptical about the plan for the Annapolis Community Health Centre.

"I think they're probably doing the best that they can, and then sometimes I think it's all smoke and mirrors," she said in an interview.

"So I don't really know."

Cranton was one of more than 200 people who attended three public meetings on Tuesday at the local fire hall to hear about the future of health-care services in Annapolis Royal.

The town is the latest rural community in Nova Scotia confronting a certain level of desired services with the reality of what's possible with available staffing resources.

New centre to open Oct. 12

The community's collaborative emergency centre was forced to close in July because the necessary health-care staff was no longer available for it to consistently operate. On Tuesday, Cranton and others learned that the site would transition to an urgent treatment centre on Oct. 12.

Like similar sites already operating in North Sydney and Parrsboro, the urgent treatment centre in Annapolis Royal will offer same-day and next-day appointments for people who have urgent, non-life threatening issues and people who do not have a family doctor.

Presenting patients will be assessed by a nurse either in person or by phone. In cases of emergencies, people will be asked to call 911 or go to the nearest open emergency department.

The urgent treatment centre will initially be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the aim of eventually expanding to five and then seven days a week.

Making the most of available resources

Brianne Thibodeau, health services manager site lead at the Annapolis Community Health Centre, said the change in model reflects the best option for providing consistent, sustainable care while being mindful of available resources.

"In an ideal world, we would all have a 24-hour emergency department, but given all the resource challenges it's not ideal at this time and in this environment," she said.

Dr. Roop Conyers, the site's medical lead, said the change was made following an extensive review of cases that presented at the former collaborative emergency centre.

Conyers said 80 per cent of cases were issues that could be treated using the urgent treatment centre model. The reality in Annapolis Royal is the site was not well equipped to deal with true emergencies anyway because of a lack of specialist services and necessary support staff, including consistent ambulance services.

"We are trying to come up with a solution for our community that is better than what we have," Conyers told the crowd.

Outstanding concerns about emergency services

Conyers said he and the rest of the doctors working at the site must be able to also meet their commitments to their own family practices. Still, they and the rest of the community's health-care workers are committed to providing the area with the best care possible, he said. After all, Conyers noted, the community is home for the health-care workers, too.

"Sometimes, the solutions are not what the community wants or feel they need, but it's sometimes the best we can do with what we have."

The area's provincial representative, Liberal MLA Carmen Kerr, said he understands the trepidation of people such as Cranton because what's now being offered is unfamiliar and not in line with what people have come to expect.

But Kerr also remains concerned about the availability of emergency services for the community. The emergency department in Middleton operates on limited hours and there are regular closures at the hospital in Digby.

That leaves the regional hospitals in Yarmouth and Kentville — each more than an hour away — as the next closest options. Given the challenges with ambulance availability at times, Kerr said he's hoping for assurances from the Health Department and Emergency Health Services about efforts to improve access for the area.

Regular reviews

Conyers said there will be ongoing evaluation of the new urgent treatment centre, and that will include getting feedback from doctors and nurses working at the site, and the patients accessing the service.

He wasn't surprised by the big turnout at Tuesday's meetings. Conyers said people in the community are engaged and have a vested interest in the health centre.

"They are motivated to make sure it's there. They're motivated to ensure that there's service there, because they also see that they will need it or will be accessing care there."