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Staff work at the new-look Parrsboro emergency centre. (Submitted)

An emergency room touted as the future of Nova Scotia's rural health care officially opened Monday.

Parrsboro's Collaborative Emergency Centre is the first of eight scheduled to open across the province in the next 18 months.

A nurse or doctor will see patients in the day and a nurse or paramedic will take over at night.

Parrsboro's centre has been operating for a month, but Monday saw the official opening.

Bruce Saunders, chairman of the Cumberland Health Authority, said the new approach was going smoothly.

"It seems to be working out fine so far. We have a paramedic with us nighttime until early morning. It is nice to have that extra body in the building during those hours," he said.

A doctor is on call to give advice over the phone if needed. Patients not needing emergency care are given a clinic appointment within 48 hours.

The previous system saw the emergency room frequently closed:

  • In 2010-11 the Parrsboro emergency room was closed for 525 hours.
  • In 2009-10, it was closed 1,277 hours.

Saunders said the old system was broken.

"I think it's a fair assessment to say today that the system has been fixed," he said.

Maureen MacDonald, Nova Scotia's health minister, said it was a good day for rural health.

"Patients can get appropriate care before a minor discomfort turns into a health-care crisis," she said.

More than 1,000 patients have used the new facility.

Darrell Dexter's NDP government has promised more of the same.

Hospitals in Springhill and Pugwash have had chronic emergency room closures. Dexter said Monday that any new centres will be tailored to community needs.

"We are going out, we're meeting with communities, meeting with the health authorities who want to make sure the model, which will be different in each community, actually fixes the problem in that particular community," he said.

Dexter said employees are being hired and trained for the next Collaborative Emergency Centre, but would not say where it and the others would be. He said he would announce that soon.