N.S. cuts program that paid doctors isolating after COVID exposure at work
Health Department says most doctors can continue working virtually during two-week isolation period
Nova Scotia has abruptly cancelled a program that paid some physicians exposed to COVID-19 on the job for their time in isolation — a move the association representing doctors in the province calls "ill-advised" amid the pandemic's second wave.
Doctors Nova Scotia said the move affects more than 500 physicians, including some doctors in the emergency department, family physicians and hospitalists. They include physicians paid under the fee-for-service model and some others.
The physicians were told late last week the temporary isolation program had ended effective immediately. The Health Department said it made the change because most doctors can work virtually from home.
"There are certainly some who are understandably upset by it," said Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie, president of Doctors Nova Scotia. "We did share back our thoughts with [the Health Department] about the timing of it being ill-advised."
Working from home
CBC News has heard from two physicians who said the province is turning its back on those working on the front lines.
The Health Department would not provide anyone for an interview. In a brief email statement, it said the isolation program was tied to the income stabilization program, which ended in July.
The statement said most doctors should be able to work from home.
"Our understanding of the virus has increased significantly and with virtual care [fee] codes in place, many physicians can continue to provide services while self-isolating," the statement read.
Fee codes allow most physicians to bill for some services that are delivered virtually.
MacQuarrie said the move has created a two-tiered system.
For example, she said, if two physicians working side by side in the emergency room — one who's paid under the fee-for-service model and another who's paid under a different model — are exposed to COVID-19, the latter might be paid for their time in isolation while the other would not.
"Our position would be that it certainly seems that they're unfairly disadvantaged as compared to others in that situation if they're exposed at work," she said.
MacQuarrie said while Doctors Nova Scotia can voice its concern, it's not in a position to negotiate with the province to bring the program back. The only window to negotiate is when they're working on a new contract.
"Ultimately this is a program that was put up at the government's discretion, and also had the ability to be taken down at the government's discretion," she said.
"Certainly our position at DNS would be there's been a lot of great things the government has put in place to support doctors during the pandemic, we're really happy to have the virtual care fee codes."
MacQuarrie, personally, is not affected by the move. But she said she's disappointed the province would cut the isolation program for her colleagues.
"The fee-for-service physicians are the ones that are the most vulnerable," she said. "The timing is unfortunate."