Keeping emergency rooms open is once again a major issue for Nova Scotians living in smaller communities. In the 2009 election campaign, the New Democratic Party promised to keep all emergency rooms open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

That promise was a cornerstone of the New Democrat platform back in 2009 — this campaign is no different.

New Democratic Party Leader Darrell Dexter talks about ER closures at almost every campaign stop.

"The NDP Collaborative Emergency Centre model is keeping ERs open for families and seniors," said Dexter. "Communities with CECs have seen a 92 per cent decrease in closures."

That number — 92 per cent — is accurate, but only for hospitals that turned their fully-staffed emergency rooms into Collaborative Emergency Centres. When you look at all hospitals in Nova Scotia, the closure numbers aren’t as rosy.

Emergency Department Closures Comparison

A comparison on Emergency Department closures in Nova Scotia from the 2012-2013 Annual Accountability Report on Emergency Departments. (Nova Scotia Department of Health)

In 2009, the total number of closure hours for emergency rooms topped 19,000. Since then the number has dropped 21 per cent, but emergency rooms were still closed more than 15,000 hours last year.

When you factor out the hospitals that employ the Collaborative Emergency Centre​ model at night and compare only those hospitals that try to maintain fully-staffed ERs around the clock, we see very little change. In 2009 to 2010, emergency rooms at those hospitals were closed 14,301 hours. Last year, they were closed a total of 13,849 hours — a decline of only 3.2%.

Many of those closures happened at a few rural hospitals and the New Democratic Party is promising to create CECs at those hospitals as well, if the party is re-elected.

So the question is, how are CECs working?

How busy are CECs?

First, the hospitals that have turned their emergency rooms into CECs have, for the most part, been able to stay open 24/7. That's because from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., anyone who shows up at the ER is seen by a paramedic and a nurse. There is no doctor on duty at the hospital. If a patient has a serious health issue the paramedic and nurse consult with an online doctor and if it's necessary, the patient is taken to a hospital with a fully-staffed ER.

We wanted to see how busy these CECs are so we asked the Department of Health to provide data for the number of patients seen each night:

  • Parrsboro: 0.75 patients per night.
  • All Saints: 1.56 patients per night.
  • Lillian Fraser: 1.26 patients per night.
  • Annapolis: 1.01 patients per night.
  • Pugwash: 1.14 patients per night.
  • Musquodoboit Harbour: 1.15 patients per night.

These numbers are the average nightly visit per Collaborative Emergency Centre​​ in Nova Scotia, since each centre opened to Sept. 15, 2013 — an average of just over one patient a night per 12-hour shift at each Collaborative Emergency Centre​.

In this campaign, the New Democrats say CECs are the best way to keep small emergency rooms open and they promise to expand the program to more rural hospitals.

The Progressive Conservatives say they will keep all maintain all existing and announced sites, but will move forward with new Community Care Centres.

The Liberals say they will work with communities to conduct a review of the Collaborative Emergency Centres to determine which model best meets the needs of the community.