Nova Scotia

Parrsboro first for new health clinic

A key piece of the Nova Scotia government's attempts to relieve pressure on overcrowded rural emergency rooms was touted by Health Minister Maureen MacDonald on Wednesday as a way of also delivering primary health care more efficiently.
The first collaborative emergency care centre that was funded in Tuesday's budget will open in Parrsboro in July. (CBC)

A key piece of the Nova Scotia government's attempts to relieve pressure on overcrowded rural emergency rooms was touted by Health Minister Maureen MacDonald on Wednesday as a way of also delivering primary health care more efficiently.

MacDonald was joined by Premier Darrell Dexter in Parrsboro to announce the first collaborative emergency care centre that was funded in Tuesday's budget. It will open in the town in July.

The centres are essentially one-stop clinics that can see patients through same-day or next-day appointments and can handle most medical problems that aren't life-threatening emergencies. They were a key recommendation in a report released last fall by Dr. John Ross, who examined the province's chronically stressed emergency rooms.

"I'm very impressed with how things are rolling out and I'm very optimistic that this is all going to work out just peachy," Ross told reporters on Wednesday.

MacDonald said the idea is to take pressure off emergency departments through clinics staffed by teams of doctors, nurse practitioners and paramedics.

She said Parrsboro is an ideal site because the local emergency room was closed for 525 hours in 2010-11 and 1,277 hours in 2009-10, while there were instances where patients had to wait up to three weeks or more to see their family doctor.

Meanwhile, of the 632 people who visited the emergency room last year, MacDonald said only 1.1 per cent had a severe or life-threatening injury.

"Essentially this community is ready for this change," she added.

The government is spending $200,000 to allow the collaborative practice already in operation to extend its hours and open seven days a week.

The Parrsboro centre will provide access to primary care between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., while the local hospital's emergency department will be staffed by a paramedic working with oversight by an on-call doctor between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

MacDonald said more serious cases would be transferred to a hospital in Amherst, which is the current practice, and the Parrsboro area will benefit from the new arrangement.

"Community doctors will not have to staff the ER at night and therefore they will be able to offer extended hours in the daytime," said MacDonald. "As a result patients will have better, quicker access to primary care during the day and evening."

The government says it will evaluate the success of the centre and intends to open at least three more this year.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the move to collaborative practices in rural areas is something that makes sense.

"The challenges that Nova Scotians are facing in emergency rooms across this province are really because they are using them to excess for primary health care, not emergencies," said McNeil.

"Any time we can build a system that will direct people towards the primary side of this … is the right direction in my view."

Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the collaborative concept is a "practical step forward" as a result of the Ross report.

However, he said it doesn't let the NDP off the hook for its election promise to keep all emergency rooms open around the clock.

"This is a far cry from that," said Baillie.

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