Nova Scotia

Doctor warns of 'extraordinary' number of upcoming Cape Breton ER closures

The head of Cape Breton's Medical Staff Association says the Glace Bay emergency department will be closed every night in May and a third of the days.

Glace Bay emergency department will be closed 10 days, every night in May

The ER in Glace Bay, N.S., will be closed every night in May and during ten day shifts as well. (CBC)

The head of Cape Breton's Medical Staff Association is warning of an "extraordinary" number of emergency department closures next month at the hospital in Glace Bay, N.S.

Dr. Margaret Fraser said the ER will be closed every night in May and during 10 day shifts as well. There aren't enough doctors to cover the shifts.

Fraser said recently the department has been closed in the evening more than normal. 

"But usually we've been able to keep Glace Bay open more consistently than this," she said. "So this represents an extraordinary number of closures for this area."

Fraser said the emergency department at the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney, which is not open at night, will be closed for 15 of the 31 days in May.

Fewer doctors available to work

Greg Boone, a spokesperson with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said the schedules are preliminary, and more shifts will likely be filled by next month.

Fraser, though, said it's becoming increasingly difficult to find doctors willing to take on the ER shifts.

"We've lost several family physicians who were doing part-time emergency medicine and part-time family medicine. They found it difficult to balance their family practice and their home life," she said.

Dr. Margaret Fraser, president of the Cape Breton Medical Staff Association. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Fraser added another doctor has recently retired, and one resigned.

The emergency department closures are tough on people in the outlying communities who don't have transportation to get to the regional emergency department in Sydney, and must rely on family or call an ambulance, Fraser said.

She said the closures also result in a larger volume of patients at the regional ER, and can stretch that facility "past its limits".

'It was awful'

Fraser said, during one shift recently, the Sydney emergency department was so crowded there were people "in every conceivable hallway space.   

"We even had one person parked under the handout sheets that we give to patients. In order to get to all of those, you had to reach across this poor woman and disturb her. It was awful."

Fraser said the province must do more to attract more physicians, and support them once they arrive.

Boone said the Health Authority is aware of the problems created by the closure of smaller emergency rooms and has protocols in place at the regional emergency department to try to alleviate the overcrowding.

He said the authority is continually looking for family physicians willing to take on ER shifts, in addition to trying to recruit new doctors.

About the Author

Wendy Martin

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Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at wendy.martin@cbc.ca