Nova Scotia

'Excessive, unacceptable' ER closures prompt Shelburne rally

The town of Shelburne, N.S., organized a meeting Sunday afternoon so people across the county could talk about what needs to be done to improve health care in the area.

150 attend town event for people to talk about how to improve health care in the region

About 150 people attended the rally in Shelburne on Sunday. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

Shelburne town Coun. Nolan Young realized the importance of an accessible emergency room over the Thanksgiving weekend when his three-year-old son had a seizure at the community's hospital. 

The facility was closing when he and his wife arrived and staff had to arrange for a paramedic to take them to the hospital in Liverpool about 60 kilometres away.

"He was unresponsive. He was still conscious, but he just wasn't tuned in," said Young. 

"It was a bit of chaos and they're trying to figure out where to send him and what to do and it's pretty scary at the end when your hospital is calling 911." 

The meeting aimed to draw attention to the number of ER closures at the Roseway Hospital and the lack of family doctors and services in the area. (Shutterstock/funnyangel)

The frequent emergency room closures in Shelburne, N.S., have prompted the community to call on the province for improved access to health care in the area. About 150 people attended a town meeting Sunday afternoon at the Shelburne Community Centre Auditorium.

"It's to draw attention to not only the excessive, unacceptable number of ER closures at Roseway Hospital, but all of the other negative issues that have impacted the residents here," said Mayor Karen Mattatall. "We never know when there's going to be an emergency and it just isn't OK."

Lack of family doctors

She said the ER has been closing "almost every weekend" because there aren't enough doctors to work. Mattatall said residents only get a heads-up about the change in hours a day in advance.

Though there have been problems with the health-care system in Shelburne since the early 1990s, the mayor said the turning point for her was also Thanksgiving weekend. Twenty teams were in town for a ball tournament.

"We had all sorts of events going on, people visiting and whatever and to have the majority of that weekend with no ER coverage ... it really was the straw that broke the camel's back for me," said Mattatall.

This is the poster that advertised the event. (Town of Shelburne)

Mattatall said the lack of family doctors is also exacerbating problems at the ER because residents are going there for health services.

"That may be even to have a prescription filled, so it certainly backs up the number of people there when there are real emergencies. But people have no other choice if they don't have a doctor they can go to," the mayor said.

A lack of family doctors is a problem throughout the province. Doctors Nova Scotia, citing Statistics Canada research, estimates 100,000 Nova Scotians do not have a family doctor.

People want to be heard

Chris Parsons, a provincial co-ordinator with the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, a health care advocacy group, attended the meeting to hear what residents had to say.

He said the province and Nova Scotia Health Authority's first step should be acknowledging there is a problem.

"One of the things that I think people are also saying — and that's doctors, that's patients, that's nurses on the frontline — is that they're not being listened to and people want a collaborative solution to the real problems they're facing," Parsons said.

Health care perspective

Jodi Ybarra, Roseway Hospital's site manager, attended the meeting to get a sense of communty members' concerns. 

Ybarra said the ER closures are something the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Nova Scotia Department of Health are aware of and working on improving.

"In terms of primary health care, we've recently had a lot of success recruiting, so we've got the highest complement of primary health care providers in the area that we've had in a number of years," said Ybarra.

Working on recruitment

The town currently has four physicians, two nurse practitioners and Ybarra said the hospital is looking to recruit another nurse practitioner.

She said three of the doctors started in the last year.

"They're not to full capacity yet, so it'll continue to improve as they're able to take on more patients," Ybarra said.

Range of services offered

In terms of services offered in Shelburne, Ybarra said it actually offers a lot of services for the size of the community, such as a visiting clinics that include an ears, nose and throat specialist, two different internal medicine physicians and a pediatrician.

She said the hospital also has primary care, an emergency department, stress testing, an EKG lab and diagnostic imaging "to name a few."

She plans to pass along notes about the meeting to the health authority and the health department.

With files from Kayla Hounsell