STRAIT AREA: Two emergency departments in the Strait area, less than 50-kilometres apart, were closed a total of 1,664-hours during 2018-19, according to the recent release of the annual Accountability Report on Emergency Departments, published by the Department of Health and Wellness.
While the number of emergency department closure hours is on the rise throughout the province, closures at certain facilities have become increasingly commonplace in the Eastern Zone, according to the report which confirms a 58 per cent increase in closure hours throughout the zone over the previous year.
According to the report, which was released last month, there were a total of 22,524 scheduled closure hours and 26,259.3 temporary closure hours province-wide, compared with last years’ numbers of 17,926 scheduled hours of closure, along with 12,567.5 temporary closures.
In Zone 3 (Eastern Zone), there were a total of 22,116.5 emergency department closure hours, including 12,843 scheduled and 9,273.5 temporary closure hours – temporary closure hours within the zone saw an annual increase of 119 per cent.
The total amount of closure hours in the Eastern Zone equated to 45.3 per cent of the total provincial-wide closure hours, and saw an increase of 8,137.5 hours from last year.
“Nova Scotia’s health care system is complex and not without its challenges,” read a statement by health and wellness representatives forwarding the report. “Government and NSHA are working hard to try and address them so Nova Scotians have access to the care they need, when they need it.”
Emergency departments with no scheduled closure hours saw, the Strait Richmond Hospital in Evanston with 906 temporary closure hours, St. Anne Community and Nursing Care Centre in Arichat saw 758 temporary closure hours, the Guysborough Memorial Hospital had 96 temporary closure hours, and Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso recorded five temporary closure hours.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said a 60 per cent increase in emergency room closures this year is further proof that the McNeil Liberals are making the health crisis worse.
“Emergency room closures have tripled since Stephen McNeil became Premier. I don’t know how the Minister of Health will be able to spin these numbers,” Houston said. “The government is putting people’s health at risk. Too many Nova Scotians do not have access to primary care, and coupling that with skyrocketing ER closures is a dangerous situation.”
Since McNeil became Premier the PCs maintain, there has been a 213.6 per cent increase in closure hours, comparing the numbers in the 2013-14 Accountability Report to the numbers released last month.
“There can no longer be any denial that our province is in a health care crisis. We can no longer accept minimal action by this government,” Houston concluded. “Nova Scotians are terrified that when they need emergency assistance, it won’t be there for them.”
Barb O’Neil, Eastern Zone director of emergency program of care said in a written statement temporary emergency department closures may occur due to physician, nursing, or paramedic availability.
“We always work with our teams in the local area and across the province to achieve coverage when we are faced with a scheduling vacancy; if coverage isn’t found, a temporary closure may be unavoidable,” she said. “Recruitment for both appropriately trained physicians, and experienced nursing staff, to work in all parts of the network is ongoing.”
O’Neil said assessing care delivery models to ensure the right mix of staff skills and experience are in place for emergency departments is important and providing access to health care services in provincial communities is a key focus for the NSHA.
“Collaborative Emergency Centres were developed to enhance day time access to primary care and to support night time access points to the broader integrated network of emergency care,” she indicated. “By having a nurse and paramedic or two nurses available overnight in the CECs, with oversight from a physician by phone as part of the team, family physicians are freed up during the day to provide primary care when there is more demand, and to respond to emergencies when they arise.”
As the NSHA plans for the future to improve citizens’ experience, access, and outcomes, O’Neil said they continue to re-design and improve on emergency care and primary health care throughout the province.
“There is ongoing planning to evolve toward a provincial emergency system of care that will include various levels of emergency departments with varying response capacities, connected through tele-medicine and the high quality ground and air ambulance system,” she said. “At the same time, there is ongoing planning to strengthen the primary health care system with collaborative family practice teams that are ‘health homes,’ where family physicians, nurse practitioners, family practice nurses, and other health care providers work together to meet patients’ needs.”