Nova Scotia

Yarmouth hospital has lost 3 of its 4 anesthesiologists

The remaining anesthesiologist at Yarmouth Regional Hospital is now focusing on emergency surgeries and obstetrics, and elective surgeries are on hold.

NSHA says it's 'acutely aware' the remaining physician is at risk of burnout

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says one anesthesiologist has already been recruited for Yarmouth but 'there have been a couple of speed bumps' with the doctor's immigration process. (Robert Short/CBC)

Patients in southwest Nova Scotia in need of elective surgeries may have to wait or go somewhere else, now that Yarmouth Regional Hospital is down to just one anesthesiologist.

The hospital is supposed to have four full-time specialists in that position, but one doctor left last fall and two more at the end of March. The remaining doctor is now focusing on emergency surgeries and obstetrics, and elective surgeries are on hold.

"So it's going to be a tremendous challenge for the surgeons trying to do surgery in Yarmouth, but it's also a problem for the patients who probably have been waiting for awhile to receive the surgeries," Chris d'Entremont, the Progressive Conservative MLA for the area, told CBC's Information Morning.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says making sure resources are stable at the hospital is a priority. The hospital has temporary staff available so that an anesthesiologist is at the hospital 24/7 until the end of April. 

One doctor has already been recruited to fill a position, the health authority said, but "speed bumps" have delayed the federal immigration process. 

Will surgeons leave?

D'Entremont said he's concerned that some surgeons will leave the area if there's no work for them due to a lack of anesthesiologists.

It's a problem that also worries Dr. Cheryl Pugh, who is the medical executive director co-lead for the health authority's western zone.

"These are very legitimate concerns," she said. "The surgeons potentially can experience income loss and there's definitely less professional satisfaction when you don't have access to the resources that you need."

Pugh said the health authority is working hard to fill the spots, and also doing what it can to support the last remaining anesthesiologist.

Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d'Entremont says he is concerned about the effect of the shortage of anesthesiologists on surgical patients and the hospital's emergency room. (Robert Short/CBC News)

Doctors from elsewhere in the province and country are being brought in on a temporary basis to help, said Pugh. 

"We're acutely aware that the physician who is remaining is at risk, and we are doing everything we can to support that person," she said.

The shortage of anesthesiologist is not a problem that's unique to Yarmouth. The health authority is currently advertising for six anesthesiologists.

Dr. Jeremy Hillyard, site physician lead at St. Martha's Regional Hospital, told CBC News last week that one way to solve the shortage problem may be to hire family practice anesthesiologists.

Concern over ER operations

Yarmouth Regional Hospital is the medical hub for the southwestern part of the province. 

Tony Kelly, co-ordinator for the Digby Area Health Coalition, said people in his area often travel to Yarmouth since the Digby hospital no longer offers the same kind of surgical care. 

He thinks the focus on recruiting family doctors has hurt recruitment efforts for specialists like anesthesiologists.

"Most of us have been complaining bitterly about the issue of general practitioners in these areas ... but we have not been paying close enough attention to the issue of specialists and the support that they need," he said.

You don't have to have an anaesthetist to run an emergency department.- Dr. Cheryl Pugh, NSHA

D'Entremont worries the shortage of anesthesiologists could impact the emergency room in Yarmouth. Emergency departments in Shelburne and Digby are routinely closed due to a lack of staff. 

"There's definitely a knock-on problem here that, you know, when one goes down people are going to start moving. Things might be closed. They might end up having to travel to Kentville and to Bridgewater," he said. 

But Pugh said that likely won't happen. 

"It's definitely beneficial to have an anesthetist present for support, but you don't have to have an anesthetist to run an emergency department," she said.



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