Two recent cases where dying Strait area residents were unable to receive even an acceptable level of palliative care show how sick the healthcare system really is.
Last month, Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon questioned Premier Stephen McNeil and Health Minister Randy Delorey about palliative care services at the Strait-Richmond Hospital.
Paon discussed the case of Danny Latimer who entered the Strait-Richmond Hospital ER and was forced to stay there for several days because there were no beds available. Eventually, he was sent home.
His wife Linda sent an e-mail to the Premier detailing her family’s frustration. In the e-mail, Latimer described her husband Danny’s diagnosis of terminal metastatic renal cancer. She also stated that the entire government should be embarrassed by the lack of palliative care at rural hospitals.
The day Paon first asked a question of McNeil, a bed became available at the Strait-Richmond and Danny was able to be admitted. Unfortunately, Danny passed away on April 12.
On April 13, Paon asked health minister Randy Delorey why a plan of action for palliative care submitted in 2015 was ignored.
Delorey responded that the Nova Scotia Health Authority is working to expand such services and to ensure the standardization of palliative care across the province.
Then in the Nova Scotia Legislature on April 17, the children of the late Marie Elizabeth Cole attended to hear Paon talk about their mother’s final days.
Cole spent the last five days of her life on a stretcher in the Strait-Richmond Hospital emergency room. She died on March 7 after a four-month battle with terminal cancer.
According to a press release issued by the Progressive Conservative caucus, Cole was bounced from one emergency room bed to the next and there was no place for her family to rest, so they slept on the floor.
Paon demanded designated palliative care beds for the Strait-Richmond Hospital. The closest ones are in Sydney or at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish. Paon also said she wants to see a time where she does not have to raise people’s stories publicly, just to get action from the government.
The Premier responded that he discussed the matter with the Cape Breton-Richmond MLA after she raised the issue and tabled a report on palliative care in the House of Assembly. McNeil said he told Paon he intends to study the report and hold meetings to discuss the issue. The Premier explained that the problem stems from the decision to use palliative care beds for acute care at the Strait-Richmond Hospital.
Delorey added that the government has heard the concerns raised by families in the Strait area and two private rooms at the Strait-Richmond Hospital were outfitted for palliative care, with the intention to make those services available in other rooms as well.
While it was encouraging the province is finally making definitive steps to at least make palliative care beds available, this is but one small solution to a growing problem.
Unfortunately for Nova Scotians, this is not just about palliative care; this concerns the entire healthcare system.
Without a doubt there are demonstrable gaps in the delivery of palliative care services, but service gaps exist throughout the system.
Doctor shortages, emergency room closures, long wait lists for procedures, and under-funded nursing homes are just some of the other high-profile manifestations of a sick health care system.
The problem is that rather than dealing with healthcare crisis-by-crisis, this government, or another in the near future, will have to make the inevitable decision that the healthcare system needs much more money and resources.
The costs will be heavy and the needs will be great, but until that realization is reached and the money finally gets into the system, there will be more Danny Latimers and Elizabeth Coles dying on stretchers in emergency rooms.