Residents, municipality fight for nurses at local hospitals

Pictured is Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso.

CANSO: The Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) is taking action as the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) slashes service at the Eastern Memorial Hospital (EMH) in Canso.

A statement from the health authority on May 9 announced that, beginning May 12, the emergency department at EMH will be reduced from 24-hour service to being open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., due to a shortage of nurses.

“This service change to consolidate nursing services is to support daytime emergency department coverage,” the statement read. “During the past year, 90 per cent of emergency department visits to EMH occurred during daytime hours.”

On top of the closure of the emergency department, the NSHA is also eliminating admission to the hospital’s six inpatient beds temporarily, as there will be no overnight nursing coverage.

“These changes are based on ensuring that we can provide stable daytime care, while we look at a more sustainable plan to provide service to the area,” said Brett MacDougall, executive director of operations in the Eastern Zone.

The NSHA advised they will share more information with the community through an upcoming public information session and more information will become available soon.

Following May’s regular municipal council meeting on May 15, Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts said things have been moving quickly since council called an emergency meeting on May 10.

“We have people in government departments [that] have been in contact with us almost on a daily basis, I’ve had numerous contacts with our MLA, he’s fully on-side and he’ll be doing whatever he can to bring our concerns forward,” Pitts told reporters. “So all we can do is be optimistic going forward, our glass is still half full it’s not half empty. We’re going to get our nurses back and our hospital back up and running.”

Pitts explained the municipality is not going to stand by and watch the health authority and the Department of Health and Wellness cut back services at one of their hospitals without doing something.

“I want to call on the CEO of Nova Scotia Health Authority, Ms. Janet Knox, the Minister of Health and Wellness, the Honourable Randy Delorey, and our MLA, the Honourable Lloyd Hines, to issue assurances about their collective commitment to the continued long-term operation of Eastern Memorial Hospital.”

Pitts said the elimination of the inpatient beds is the major concern, as the numbers are up on emergency drop-ins.

“They were running 15 or so per day, minimum, to me, that’s substantial,” he said. “A number of them have been transferred to St. Martha’s and others were further.”

During their emergency meeting, CAO Barry Carroll indicated these actions were unprecedented and proposed several actions to help secure a permanent future for their hospitals, all of which council unanimously supported.

The municipality will provide an additional $10,000 per person in incentives to be provided for recruitment of permanent placement nurses and doctors at both local hospitals; EMH and Guysborough Memorial Hospital. Council will also allocate $10,000 to Districts 4, 5, and 8 to have a local resident delegation meet with senior representatives of the health authority.

“But if this money needs to be used elsewhere, within the health perspective, council will make that decision,” Pitts explained. “I’m certainly open to use the money wherever it has to go in order to get nurses for that hospital.”

Additionally, the municipality will send letters to Delorey, Premier Stephen McNeil, Hines, and Knox to express MODG’s dissatisfaction with the decision. The letters are asking for the province’s guarantee that this decision will be reversed and services returned to normal once new nurses are hired.

The municipality will also ask for a federal income tax reduction to be implemented and be applicable to medical personnel working in rural community hospitals and long-term care facilities in communities with a population of 5,000 or less. MODG will also draft an emergency resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to seek their support to lobby the federal government to help secure an income tax deduction for individuals working in hospitals and long-term care facilities in rural communities.

Finally, the municipality requests the presence of Knox, Hines and Delorey to meet with council within the community at their earliest convenience.

In March, NSHA informed nurses at both local hospitals in the MODG that their vacation requests had been placed on hold due to staffing issues. In response to the doors to EMH closed for the first time since it was built 40-years-ago, approximately 200 community members gathered across the street for a rally.

Susan O’Handley, the coordinator of the rally in Canso, said the rally put faces to the community and acted two-fold; to show support for the EMH and its staff and to bring attention to the crisis facing the community.

“The turn-out, for such short notice was nothing short of amazing,” she told The Reporter on May 15. “I think the community felt blind-sided by the decision made to close the hospital [overnight] and send inpatients elsewhere. For most people, this was the first they heard that there was even an issue with a shortage of registered nurses.”

O’Handley believes Canso’s geographical location should have played a real factor in NSHA’s decision to cut these crucial health services in their small rural community.

“Given we are about a 40-minute drive, in perfect weather to Guysborough Memorial Hospital and we are 1.5 hours from Antigonish, our remoteness is a real factor,” she explained. “With our own ER services people can be stabilized immediately and with our heli-pad across the street it means appropriate medical services are obtained very quickly.”

O’Handley stressed that losing inpatient services means their sickest people, those awaiting placement in long-term facilities, or someone in a palliative care situation, are separated from their families, and questions what that does to the patient and their families who are already entrenched in an emotional, stressful and very difficult time in their lives.

A committee made up of political leaders and community members has been formed to fight for the community hospital that’s spearheaded by the MLA, O’Handley, and District 5 Councillor Janet Peitzsche, and will host their first meeting next week.

“The need is there. I firmly believe the province and our MLA, both see the need is there, it’s [now] how are we going to fulfill this need,” Pitts explained. “But we’re going to fill that – mark my words.”