Nova Scotia

Cape Breton plagued by ER closures

The Cape Breton District Health Authority has scheduled overnight closures at the Northside General every night in December and the New Waterford Consolidated Collaborative Emergency Centre will be closed Sundays, Mondays and evenings next month.

Problem blamed on doctor and nurse shortages

Cape Breton hospitals continue to face emergency room closures caused by doctor and nurse shortages. (CBC)

ER closures continue to plague hospitals in Cape Breton.

The Cape Breton District Health Authority has scheduled overnight closures at the Northside General every night in December. The New Waterford Consolidated Collaborative Emergency Centre will also be closed Sundays, Mondays, and evenings next month.

The CEO of the health authority, Dianne Calvert Simms, says chronic shortages of physicians and nurses means they don’t have the staff to keep all the emergency departments open all the time.

There are also on-going closures at the Glace Bay Hospital.

“We continue as a district, through nobody’s fault, to experience shortages of physicians and more recently also nursing," Calvert Simms says.

"For example, in North Sydney we have 17 shifts that were not covered by physicians in December and plus we have some shortage of nurses there. I think we’re down four for the emergency department and we have some new nurses there.

"And we have to make sure that when we schedule our staff, that we have a mix of the new nurses and the experienced staff."

Nurse retirements

Calvert Simms says the problem is compounded by retirements and maternity leaves. The health district loses about 80 nurses a year, she says, although it has recruited more than 365 new ones in the last five years.

"But with that, the new nurses, comes a younger generation. So we find ourselves in a situation of having people retire on one end and maternity leaves on the other.”

The district is meeting with staff​, physicians and affected communities to discuss options. They’re also having conversations with the Department of Health and Wellness.

"It’s certainly not an easy fix, we will have to look at doing things differently," Calvert Simms says.

“I think there’s a number of things we can be talking about: how do we improve access to our family physicians, can we add nurse practitioners, are there other providers that can help, are we effectively using our emergency departments, are we practising our own self-help.”

According to Calvert Simms, the district currently has 16 family physicians who provide emergency coverage, and 12 dedicated emergency room doctors. She says they’re short 7 full-time physicians, or 20 part-time physicians.   

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