Redefining health care in Cape Breton

There are many elements in my role as MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier that have brought me significant pride.

Being elected – and re-elected – to represent my community is an encouraging and often eye-opening experience. Whether it is through my constituency work, or in my capacity as a cabinet minister, I’ve been involved in many important initiatives in Cape Breton, but none as transformative and ground-breaking as the redevelopment of Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

This isn’t a temporary Band-Aid solution. It’s one of the most significant investments Cape Breton has ever seen, and one that will redefine health care delivery in our community for decades to come.

I was proud to recently take a seat at the standing committee on health to hear expert testimony on the redevelopment project. As a minister, I don’t have a permanent seat on government committees, so I’m grateful to my Liberal colleagues who graciously stepped aside to allow Geoff MacLellan and I to sit in on the proceedings that morning, as representatives of our communities.

Let’s be clear. There is no doubt there are challenges with health care delivery in Cape Breton. We are seeing and feeling those challenges firsthand, every day.

Part of the problem is our aging health care facilities, and I’m excited that the Cape Breton Regional Hospital is being expanded and transformed into a state-of-the-art hospital that will play a pivotal role in doctor recruitment to Cape Breton. Doctors want to work in modern facilities with advanced technology. Our government is making that possible, right here at home, while expanding vital health care services to all Nova Scotians.

The Regional’s emergency department will double in size, with 12 additional exam rooms to be added. Patients will immediately notice the difference with this improved lay-out and expanded space that will allow ease of transfer between departments. New X-ray and ultrasound services will be added, and a larger ambulance bay will mean quicker ambulance off-load times.

Our cancer centre is renowned for its effective and compassionate care. The redevelopment will see a new cancer centre constructed that will nearly triple in size, with an additional eight exam rooms added, and a doubling of the chemotherapy seats.

As Dr. Kevin Orrell, senior medical director for the redevelopment project, mentioned at the health committee meeting, the services at the cancer centre can and need to be improved. It goes without saying that our loved ones battling cancer deserve nothing but the best treatment available, in a facility that offers compassionate, family-focused resources and comfort. Our new cancer centre will allow more supports like education, nutrition, psychology, and social work to be offered, holistic therapy, a sunshine and volunteer room, and audio-visual equipment so patients can virtually include their families in their treatment process.

The critical care department at the Regional will be expanded as well. We currently have the second-largest intensive care unit (ICU) in the province, but the new facility will house the ICU, coronary care unit, and intermediate care unit in one department, and will be three times the size of the existing critical care units combined. This will serve our community well by creating larger rooms that provide more privacy for patients and families.

In the short-term, we’ve increased health care spending in our recent budget with more than $270 million earmarked to ensure Nova Scotians get the health care they need. In the last year, we’ve recruited eight new family doctors and seven specialists to Cape Breton, as well as 25 new collaborative care positions, including nine nurse practitioners, 10 family practice nurses, one licensed practical nurse, and five social workers.

These efforts have played a fundamental part in matching 14,252 Cape Bretoners with a primary care provider since 2016. We’re also the only province to add more residency spaces to train doctors, introduce a new Nurse Practitioner Education Incentive, and offer an emergency shift premium to hard-to-fill ER shifts.

At a recent committee meeting, Dr. Orrell mentioned he felt the CBRM healthcare redevelopment project was about leaving a legacy. I could not agree more. The renewal of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital is being led by Cape Bretoners for Cape Bretoners, to ensure we receive the utmost in quality of healthcare services.

We shouldn’t accept anything less. And we won’t have to.

Derek Mombourquette

MLA, Sydney-Whitney Pier