Surgeon’s resignation in Antigonish reason for lost hospital privileges in Inverness, NSHA says

INVERNESS: The health authority has responded to criticism after a local doctor resigned recently.

St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish and the Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital in Inverness lost general surgeon, Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray following her resignation after multiple years of clashing with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) over her work-life balance.

“Twelve years ago I chose to move back to my hometown to raise my family precisely for these ‘intangibles’ of being surrounded by family and the rich benefits of living in the community and province,” Dr. MacGillivray said. “There are other areas of the country where surgeons can earn higher pay but I wanted to live here.”

A few weeks ago, Dr. MacGillivray sent notice to her patients that she would be unable to perform her scheduled procedures.

“Over the last few years, I have been attempting to slightly modify my surgical practice to make it more sustainable,” Dr. MacGillivray’s letter read. “None of the many potential solutions I have offered have been acceptable to administration, and therefore I regretfully resigned from my position as a general surgeon at St. Martha’s Hospital.”

Her resignation comes, despite the health authority’s recruiting policy that promotes the quality of life in Nova Scotia, a trade-off for lower rates of pay to provide care in predominantly rural areas.

To provide “clarity and context,” to the stories, comments and opinions about Dr. MacGillivray’s resignation, the NSHA issued a statement on January 11.

“Dr. MacGillivray had worked a limited surgical schedule for more than a year, providing some endoscopy services at Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital,” NSHA Eastern Zone spokesperson Greg Boone said in the release. “When a physician resigns, they also give up any hospital privileges at the same time.”

Usually, there are three full-time general surgeons as part of the team at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital. Members of this team may also provide surgical services at other hospitals in the zone, including Inverness Consolidated Memorial.

“There were discussions between physician leaders and the surgeon around work-life balance and their role and options within the surgical service,” Boone said. “It would not be appropriate to discuss or debate specific details about those private conversations.”

The statement said these surgeons provide general surgery, including sharing on-call responsibilities to support continuity of care and work-life balance for the team.

Dr. MacGillivray’s former patients who have less urgent issues are being directed back to their family physician for referral to another surgeon, while urgent or emergency cases are being referred directly to the other surgeons for follow-up.

“It is our understanding that Dr. MacGillivray plans to pursue a new opportunity outside NSHA. [We] respect Dr. MacGillivray’s decision to resign, thank her for her contributions to the province and wish her well in the future,” Boone said. “The resignation is a private, personal decision made by the physician who is choosing to leave the area. NSHA will now no longer comment further, or discuss the matter publically.”

The NSHA is now actively recruiting for a full-time surgeon based at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital.

Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster charged that Nova Scotia has a doctor shortage and the Liberal government is doing nothing to keep a rural surgeon who wants to practice in the Eastern Zone.

“This is a failure of healthcare management, this is why we are losing doctors and it is the public who suffers because of it,” he said in a press release issued on January 8. “Why would the government allow their management to put a run on a surgeon whose work has been praised by her patients?”

Dr. MacGillivray then faced the sudden withdrawal of her privileges to do surgeries at the hospital, putting some of her patients in limbo.

“The NSHA did not put the needs of patients first,” MacMaster said. “They did not allow her to close her practice in a way that would best look after her patients who were waiting for their surgeries.”

In the weeks since MacGillivray issued her letter; she’s received an enormous amount of support from her former clients, other doctors, both locally and provincially, and community members from Antigonish to Inverness, have called for the NSHA to act on the matter.

“We need people like Dr. MacGillivray,” MacMaster concluded. “People are tired of a faceless health authority making bad decisions that are impacting people’s quality of life. At the end of the day it is Health Minister Randy Delorey who is in charge and it is he who must fix what his health authority has broken.”