Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia logs record-breaking year for ER closures

2015-2016 was the worst year for ER closures in Nova Scotia since 2009 when the province started tracking scheduled and forced closures because of staff shortages.

Cape Breton's Northside General Hospital ER closed the equivalent of 266 days in 2015-16

Emergency rooms are often closed in rural Nova Scotia communities, data shows. (CBC)

Hospitals in Nova Scotia were forced to close their emergency rooms the equivalent of 938 days between April 1, 2015, and March 31, 2016.

That's the highest annual number recorded since 2009, when emergency departments closed a total of 796.5 days. That year, it became law for the health minister to report to the legislature on the number of closures.

In an interview Wednesday, Health Minister Leo Glavine said the closure information doesn't "tell the full picture of what is really happening in the province."

'Still far too many'

But former Progressive Conservative health minister Chris d'Entremont said the numbers show a major issue.

"It's not showing that the problem is getting any better. There's still far too many ER closures across the province," he said.

"There's still no real handle on how to fix the problem."

Nova Scotia emergency room closures as measured by days. (CBC News Graphics)

The majority of the 2015-2016 shutdowns were scheduled closures because four hospitals no longer open overnight: Fishermen's Memorial, Musquodoboit Valley Memorial, New Waterford Consolidated and Northside General.

Unpredictable or unplanned closures — often caused by a shortage of nurses, doctors and paramedics — affected emergency rooms at 16 hospitals. Unplanned closures totalled 4,953 hours, or the equivalent of 206 days.

'Take pressure off our ERs'

Glavine said adding more medical professionals, such as nurse practitioners or paramedics, who can give health care without the patient needing to sit in a hospital will help decrease the number of unplanned closures.

"It's going to take pressure off of our ERs," Glavine said.

"I believe having the right number, the right locations of full service ERs, is what we must have available for Nova Scotians."

Cape Breton tops list

When it comes to ER closures, Cape Breton facilities top the list.

The Northside General Hospital racked up the most hours closed: 6,376 hours or 266 days. That's mainly because for the past two years, the emergency department has only been open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"You need to really work with those communities to come up with some other options," said d'Entremont.

He said more family practices or family doctors being available during the day, for instance, could help people get the care they need.

'Unacceptable,' mayor says

When it comes to unexpected closures, the Roseway Hospital in Shelburne has been forced to close the most. In 2015-16, it was closed 1,331 hours or what amounts to 55½ days.

"It's unacceptable," Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall said. She added her community "should not be expected to have a lesser degree of access to service than any other community."

The province is about to build a new clinic in Shelburne, but Mattatall said that would not address the emergency room being closed so frequently.

Closures 'very, very problematic'

Glavine said the health department is aware of the "very difficult" health-care situation in Shelburne. 

"In the first half of the year, it was very, very problematic. There was a lot of uncertainty as to whether it would be open or closed," he said.

"The goal is to keep that emergency room open."

Glavine said he hopes the new clinic, which will have collaborative care, will attract doctors and add more family care spots. 

He said the province is trying to attract more doctors by adding nurses for support and starting residencies for new physicians.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.