Nursing staff shortages have caused Fishermen's Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg to close its emergency department five times in the last month.

Tuesday evening the emergency department was forced to close early. The same thing has happened on four other occasions since the start of July.

The closures are especially disappointing given a collaborative emergency centre — heralded as a solution to the problem of regular emergency room closures — was announced for the hospital in December 2012 by the former New Democratic government.

Lynn Farrell, the vice-president of South Shore Health, said there are two registered nurses on duty when the department is open.

Lynn Farrel

Vice-president of South Shore Health Lynn Farrell says there are two registered nurses on duty when the emergency department is open. (CBC)

"If we have unexpected illnesses or bereavements leaves, we cannot run the department with one registered nurse," she said.

The emergency department is supposed to be open 16 hours each day. Fishermen's Memorial faced an even more acute problem in February when the emergency department shut down at least six times.

More nurses have been hired since then but the summer holiday period has been rough.

"When it's closed, people rely on that facility up there for their needs and Bridgewater is half an hour drive away," said Danny Croft, Lunenburg's deputy mayor.

Collaborative centre a no-show

In December 2012, the New Democratic government announced a collaborative emergency centre was coming to Fishermen's Memorial. The new model, now being used elsewhere in the province, would provide both primary and emergency care.

One aim was to cut emergency department closures.

But no such centre has opened at Fishermen's Memorial, nor has the emergency department been renovated in preparation.

"We are moving to that model. It's taking us longer than we expected," said Farrell.

The renovations are waiting for the province's approval and up to $3 million in funding.