28 May Newspaper Column: ER Closures in Tatamagouche

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Rural Health Care on the North Shore


*This article is about a campaign by the North Shore CItizns’ Health Committee, a local committee of the Health Network, to keep their Emergency Room open and bring a nurse practitioner to the community.  It was printed in the Chronicle Herald on May 28th, 2008.

By Judy Davis, Media Spokesperson, North Shore Citizens’ Health Committee.  The committee is a coalition of individuals and organizations devoted to pushing for public sector solution to the problems in the health care system.  More information about the committee can be found at www.nshealthcoalition.ca

It is difficult for those of us living on the North Shore of Nova Scotia to understand why there are so many closures at the Emergency Department of our local hospital. We now have four doctors practicing here in the Tatamagouche area. Another octor is here for the summer and locums are also available to work at the ER, but the closures are still taking place. Again this week closures have been announced for Thursday and Friday, May 22-23, 2008 between 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and again on Friday, May 30.

Earlier this month a tentative agreement was reached between Doctors Nova Scotia and the Health Department that was supposed to help end these frequent closures when the agreement is ratified. We certainly hope this will be so, although it is now the end of May and there has yet to be any indication that the agreement has been ratified by the doctors.

The ER closures produce stress and anxiety in our communities.  In fact, Statistics Canada figures show that seniors in the Tatamagouche area have more anxiety issues than seniors in other parts of Colchester County. Could  the ER closures be playing a huge part in creating that anxiety?

The Colchester East Hants Health Authority and the local doctors say that too many non-emergency cases are going to the local ER which ties the doctors up for long periods of time and prevents them from seeing their office patients. We feel there is a solution to this problem. Hire nurse practitioners and make them available to see these non-emergency patients at a walk in clinic located here in our community. Nurse practitioners are able to treat up to 80% of the cases a regular family physician would see.  By working collaboratively with physicians, nurse practitioners can ease the burden on doctors, allowing them to see and spend more time with more serious cases, and free up time so the physicians can spend more time in the ER and at their own offices.

On April 1st, the North Shore Citizens’ Health Committee presented a petition with over 925 signatures demanding that the Health Authority and the Provincial Government bring a nurse practitioner to the North Shore. The Health Authority has said they will seriously consider the recommendation. How long must we wait and how many more closures must we endure? Bringing a nurse practitioner to the North Shore could ease the crisis that is upsetting our communities.

It is important to note that the problem of ER closures is not unique to the North Shore, other hospitals like the Roseway in Shelburne, Fisherman’s Memorial in Lunenburg, Digby General, and hospitals throughout Cape Breton also suffer from sporadic closures. However, the North Shore area is experiencing an ever-increasing number of closures at a time when there is a full contingency of doctors practicing in our area. In an article in the
Chronicle Herald on April 24, 2008 Chris d’Entremont, Minister of Health acknowledged that, “different pay levels for emergency room doctors in the province, could be a factor in the ongoing closures of ERs in hospitals in Pugwash and Tatamagouche.”

On Thursday May 29, the North Shore Citizens’ Health Committee will be holding an information picket outside of Lillian Fraser Memorial Hospital from 1-3 PM.. Our communities need to have access to health care services 24/7 and we will not stop our campaign until there is a nurse practitioner in Tatamagouche and the ER closures end.