Community advocate, volunteer passes

    ARICHAT: The community of Isle Madame recently lost a staunch advocate of the local healthcare facility.

    Lorna George passed away on December 18 at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital at the age of 91.

    Isle Madame physician, Dr. Robert Martel said St. Ann Community and Nursing Care Centre in Arichat would not exist without George.

    St. Ann’s Hospital was created in the 1940s in the building just below Notre Dame de l’Assomption Church. By the 1960s, there was a plan to construct a new hospital in Arichat, but in the face of political opposition, the project foundered until the hospital was taken over by the provincial government in the 1970s.

    By the late 1970s, still without an agreement to build a new facility, the growing population of Port Hawkesbury led to the construction of a new hospital in Evanston and the hospital for Arichat was in limbo.

    “It was Lorna who basically said, there’s no way that can happen,” Dr. Martel recalled. “She felt that without an infrastructure that was supported by government, there was no way to hang on to physician services.”

    Despite a lack of political support, George continued to fight.

    “She basically lobbied, cajoled and did whatever she could to get people to understand what was needed,” Dr. Martel noted.

    George was able to convince the Department of Health to convert the hospital into a nursing home but the province would continue to fund lab and x-ray services. The facility was managed by a community board of directors.

    Within a year, it was determined the former hospital building was in unacceptable condition so the decision was made to construct the current facility.

    “Lorna was instrumental in getting council to agree to, first of all, grant the building permit for that, and two, participate in a funding scheme to have it built and to basically have that structure be modern with a lab, and x-ray, and nursing home beds,” Dr. Martel said.

    Not only was George integral in establishing St. Ann, she was able to have it community controlled, but Dr. Martel said the biggest accomplishment of this ownership model is that the facility has never run a deficit.

    Calling the organization of the St. Ann board “remarkable,” Dr. Martel added it is George’s greatest legacy.

    “To this day, it exists as an independent body, locally managed, funded directly by the Department of Health,” Dr. Martel pointed out. “It’s the only one that I know of that has that relationship, everything else is run by the health authority.”

    According to George’s obituary, St. Anne Centre held a special place in her heart. During her time as a board member of the Arichat facility, George held various positions including chair and worked tirelessly to secure emergency care facilities.

    Former MLA Michel Samson recalled that when he was first elected in 1998, George gave the political newcomer “very direct” instructions to keep St. Ann Centre independent and outside of the district health authority and make sure there were no reductions to the emergency services.

    “I don’t think in my career that I ever met an individual who had such a passion and so closely associated themselves personally with a healthcare facility the way that Lorna George did,” Samson recalled.

    Attesting to her tenacity in supporting healthcare for the community, Samson acknowledged that the Isle Madame facility was constantly under threat during his 19 years and remains so today.

    “There were many times when there were threats to make cuts to St. Ann Centre and change of services, and I would often tell the health bureaucrats, they need not fear what they’d get from Michel Samson, their biggest fear was having to deal with Lorna George,” Samson stated.

    George was devoted to her family, faith and the community, according to her obituary, and she was instrumental in founding Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Lady’s Group. She was also a member of the founding board for Strait-Richmond Hospital, and was a long-time school board member and trustee who played a significant role in the establishment of Isle Madame District High School. She was a well known volunteer for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Arthritis Society.

    George leaves behind six children, 16 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.