Nova Scotia

Halfway through her pregnancy, Cape Breton woman still doesn't have a GP

A woman in Cape Breton is almost halfway through her second pregnancy and still doesn't know her official due date — in part because she doesn't have a family doctor.

Kirsten DeJong has yet to hear her baby's heartbeat, after it has taken months to secure appointment

Kirsten DeJong is shown in front of her house in rural Cape Breton. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

A woman in Cape Breton is almost halfway through her second pregnancy and still doesn't know her official due date — in part because she doesn't have a family doctor.

Kirsten DeJong said it has taken months of phone calls and pleading just to get an appointment with an obstetrician, which she finally has scheduled for the end of November. 

"The only reason I know I'm pregnant is because my belly is growing and I had a positive home-pregnancy test," the 32-year-old said.

DeJong, her husband and their first child had moved to the small community of Boularderie, N.S., from Ontario in 2015. They came for a slower pace of life, a shorter commute and cheap real estate. 

But DeJong said it never occurred to them to worry about getting health care.

'We really are in a crisis'

"I wish I had," she said. "Everyone complained about the health care in Ontario. Hindsight, they have amazing care compared to here.

"I wish the Liberal government would accept the fact that we really are in a crisis. If I'm halfway through a pregnancy and I can't even find basic pre-natal care. To say that's not a crisis, it scares me."

Hundreds of people attended the forum on the state of healthcare in Cape Breton. Thousands are without a family doctor. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

DeJong said she contacted the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) early on to get her name on the wait-list for a family doctor.

Then when she realized she was pregnant, she tried to get a midwife; the nearest one was in Antigonish, about 200 kilometres away. 

She tried nurse practitioners next. "No one was taking anybody," said DeJong. "Because with all the retired doctors and doctors leaving, everyone is overbooked."

Her next call was to a pre-natal clinic. She was told she needed a referral from a doctor, and they suggested she visit a local emergency room. 

Turned down by 40 doctors

NSHA spokesperson Greg Boone said a pregnant woman without a family physician can visit a walk-in clinic and get a referral to a family physician who provides low-risk obstetrical care.

"There is a group of about nine GPs in the area who provide low-risk obstetrics and one of those would take that patient," he said.

DeJong said a local clinic did give her a list of doctors, but she couldn't find anyone to take her on. Only one was taking patients, she said, but he wouldn't take her because her name is not near the top of the Nova Scotia wait-list.

"I literally called about 40 different doctors," she said. "Nobody has room." 

"Physicians are in private practice," said Boone. "And they may have other processes in place in relation to how they take or accept patients."

Nervous to stay

Now DeJong worries about her pregnancy.

"Your biggest concern is you just want to hear that heartbeat. You're concerned until you either hear a heartbeat or you see an ultrasound."

A doctor in the emergency room of the Victoria County Memorial Hospital in nearby Baddeck eventually provided a referral to an obstetrician, who initially said she was not taking patients either. But she finally agreed to see DeJong.

"My first appointment is at approximately 19 weeks, halfway through my pregnancy."

Now DeJong and her husband, who also does not have a doctor, are considering leaving Cape Breton. 

"We came here thinking, 'what a great place to raise our family.' It's beautiful. The people are friendly. We could afford to buy a home," she said. "Now, after all of this, I'm nervous to stay."

DeJong is a volunteer firefighter in her community.

"I see the elderly and these people don't have doctors. There is 80- and 90-year-old people that have health problems and don't have doctors. I don't want to be that person."


Joan Weeks


Joan Weeks has been a reporter with CBC in Sydney for over a decade. Many of her stories are investigative with a focus on government spending and accountability, as well as health and economic issues important to Cape Breton.