The Nova Scotia government says its new collaborative emergency centres deserve the credit for a reduction in the number of days hospitals shut down their emergency rooms last year, but ER closures are still a serious problem in some communities.
Health Minister David Wilson said progress is being made in keeping rural ERs open, pointing to a government report that shows ERs were shut down for 15,083 hours in the 2012-13 fiscal year, down from 17,717 hours the year before.
Collaborative emergency centres are part of the NDP government's response to overcrowding and closures at rural emergency rooms.
The centres are essentially one-stop clinics that can see patients through same-day or next-day appointments and can handle most medical problems that aren't life-threatening emergencies.
They are staffed overnight by a registered nurse who is usually assisted by a paramedic and supported by an on-call physician.
'There are areas of the province that find it extremely hard to find those health care providers.' —David Wilson
The fourth annual Emergency Department Accountability Report released Tuesday says while Nova Scotia is reducing the length of time ERs are shut, 13 of the province's 38 hospitals experienced ER closures last year.
When it comes to scheduled ER closures Musquodoboit Valley Memorial tops the list. Before adopting the Collaborative Care model, it was closed for close to 4,000 hours last year.
The Fishermen's Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg was closed more than 3,200 hours.
When it comes to unexpected closures due to staff shortages, Cape Breton's New Waterford Hospital lead with 2,228 hours. The Northside General Hospital was out for 882 hours.
Health Minister Dave Wilson said he knows there are still problems.
"There are areas of the province that find it extremely hard to find those health care providers and those are the areas we're trying to assist and work with to try to make sure that we continue to provide good service in health care," he said.
Wilson is promising even fewer closures next year.
"We want to do better. We want to see the closure rates reduced and I know they will with the oncoming new collaborative emergency centres that we'll open up over the next year and we're going to continue to look at opportunities to change the model of care across the province," he said.
New collaborative emergency centres are planned for Cape Breton and Lunenburg.