Change definition of doctor 'vacancy,' municipal council urges as Cape Breton physicians ready to retire

The Nova Scotia Health Authority is being asked to rethink the way it defines physician vacancies by recruiting for anticipated retirements rather than waiting for them.

Victoria County's local council calling for better long-term planning around expected retirements

Victoria Memorial Hospital in Baddeck, N.S., is one of two hospitals in Victoria County anticipating doctor vacancies. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

The municipal council in Cape Breton's Victoria County is pressing the Nova Scotia Health Authority to rethink the way it defines physician vacancies.

The Victoria County Memorial Hospital in Baddeck and Buchanan Memorial Hospital in Neils Harbour are each currently posting one physician vacancy, according to county warden Bruce Morrison.

But in addition to those vacancies, both locations also have doctors nearing the end of their practices.

"I'm sure the health authority knows where these doctors are in their careers," Morrison said. "They should take that into consideration, and as a result, when they're going to look for recruitment, they should look for recruitment not just for short-term — it has to be done long-term as well."

Morrison said he thinks the authority should be recruiting to fill near-future vacancies, as well as current ones.

A Victoria County council meeting on Monday drew a large contingent of concerned citizens, who had come to hear a presentation by NSHA officials.

When a full-time doctor left Buchanan Memorial in September, people living north of Cape Smokey said they were facing a crisis due to the long distances and potentially difficult road conditions that come with travelling to another hospital.

'I can't do this forever'

Dr. Ken Murray has been working in Neils Harbour for 45 years.

Prior to September, he and his longtime colleague, Dr. Bernie Buffett, had been working reduced hours. Now they're back up to full time or near full time.

"I definitely would like to cut back and ease away," said Murray. "I would say it's been on my mind for four or five years."

Murray said he is unclear, though, on whether the fact that his position isn't yet an official vacancy has an effect on efforts to recruit a replacement to the region.

"The way it is — from my understanding — is we would have to declare a date: 'I am retiring as of such and such date,' for them to post a vacancy," he said.

"It would be difficult to just stop if there's not [someone else] in place. Or it would be difficult for me, anyway, to say 'That's it, I'm leaving.'

"But at the same time, I can't — and don't want to — do this forever."

CBC News reached out to the Nova Scotia Health Authority for comment about vacancy policies but did not immediately hear back.

About the Author

Holly Conners

Reporter

Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.