Nova Scotia

'We care for health care': Rural Nova Scotia communities rally for doctors

Demonstrations held in Digby, Sydney, Windsor, Shelburne and Yarmouth Saturday morning.

Demonstrations held in Digby, Sydney, Windsor, Shelburne and Yarmouth

About 60 people marched in front of the Digby General Hospital on Saturday, demanding more action from the provincial government. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Demonstrations were held across rural Nova Scotia Saturday as part of a day of action to demand better health care from the provincial government.

People gathered outside the Digby General Hospital in Digby, N.S. chanting, "We care for health care."

There were also rallies in Sydney, Windsor, Shelburne and Yarmouth.

"The specific challenges to Digby are access to care because we have an unstable medical population," said Tony Kelly, co-ordinator with the Digby Area Health Coalition. He helped organize the Digby event, where about 60 people attended.

"It seems impossible to get stable staffing. … We've reached a crisis point."

Difficult to keep staff in the clinic

Tony Kelly with the Digby Area Health Coalition helped organize the rally in Digby. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Two family doctors in the area, Dr. Genna Bourget and Dr. Jennifer Chang, announced last month they were planning to leave the community. They had been working out of the Digby and Area Health Services Centre for a year.

The doctors cited the workload and distance from family among reasons for their departure. 

"Right now there's a complement of nurse practitioners and I think 1.2 doctors or something like that are stable here for now," said Kelly.

Thousands without a doctor

Kelly said there are upwards of 10,000 people in the area and an estimated 7,000 people don't have a family doctor. He said the province is not spending enough money to attract and retain people in the area.

"Every time there's not a doctor in that clinic, money is being saved in the provincial budget. That's the equation," he said.

"We've been promised the stars and none of it has come true."

People gathered Saturday in front of the Digby General Hospital as part of a day of action to rally for better health care. (Emma Davie/CBC)

The rally in Digby had a second purpose. Those gathered also thanked the two family doctors who are departing.

"The quality of care when doctors are here is wonderful, absolutely wonderful," Kelly said. "But to sustain their presence is partly their decision [and] it's partly the way the thing is set up. It's almost set up to fail and that's the sadness of it."

'Kind of heartbreaking'

Gillianne Kelly, Tony's daughter and mother of a four-month-old baby, attended the Digby rally. She has lost her family doctor.

"I got pregnant [last] September and was lucky enough to get a family doctor at this clinic right away ... but that doctor is now leaving. We knew it was happening but it's still kind of heartbreaking," she said.

She said she doesn't know when she and her baby will get a new family doctor and is concerned.

Gillianne Kelly brought her four-month-old baby to Saturday's event in Digby. (Emma Davie/CBC)

"The closest place to go is either here to emergency or Annapolis to emergency and they're closed often," she said.

She said she wants to know what the province is doing to bring more doctors in and when people can expect them to show up.

"I think it's really important for the community to unite not only in Digby but provincewide," she said.

'Each community has its own struggles'

Chris Parsons, co-ordinator of the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, drove from Dartmouth to attend the rally in Windsor

Parsons said long-term care and seniors issues were the points of emphasis.

"I think that was one of the important aspects of having rallies in a few different communities was that the issues are all connected, but each community has its own struggles and challenges," Parsons said.

Long-term care and seniors issues was the focus of the rally in Windsor, N.S. (Submitted by Chris Parsons)

Parsons said about a dozen people attended the event held in front of the West Hants Exhibition. The initial plan was to march to the nearby hospital, but a number of people couldn't make the journey because of mobility issues.

Instead, demonstrators stood and waved to traffic and chatted with people who were making their way into a flea market that was going on at the exhibition.

"People were sharing personal stories. With the crowd that was there, it was largely folks who had really serious concerns about long-term care and were worried both about their parents in a number of cases," he said.

Read more stories from CBC Nova Scotia

With files from Emma Davie