The Nova Scotia government announced a plan to ‘reshape’ the health system in Cape Breton — with the closure of two hospitals and the expansion of two others in the region.
Premier Stephan McNeil and Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) president and CEO Janet Knox were heckled and booed as they announced the CBRM Health Care Redevelopment Plan in Sydney, N.S., on Monday.
WATCH: Stephen McNeil and provincial health officials heckled and booed at announcement to ‘reshape’ the health system in Cape Breton
The plan says the Northside General Hospital and New Waterford Consolidated Hospital will be closing to be replaced by new and “modern” community health centres and long-term care facilities.
Both of the hospitals have exceeded their lifespan and cannot be renovated, according to the province.
The Cape Breton Regional Hospital and Glace Bay Hospital will see their emergency departments redeveloped, with the province predicting that their capacity will be increased by 40 and 30 per cent, respectively.
“I understand the anxiety for those of you in Northside and New Waterford. There’s no question there’s anxiety in those communities,” said McNeil as someone could be heard yelling “shame.”
“This is not about job loss. This is not about doing anything else than ensuring that we provide a modern health care system, where we can have access into that system
The new facilities will use the province’s collaborative family practice team model, as well as community-based services, day clinics and clinical support services.
WATCH: NS hospitals face $85 million shortfall for urgent repairs
Move in line with auditor general report
The decision by the provincial government seems to be in-line with a June 2016 report from Michael Pickup, Nova Scotia’s auditor general, which examined health care in the province.
Pickup found that as of 2015, Nova Scotia’s 41 hospitals and health care centres were in dire need of $85 million in urgent infrastructure repairs and maintenance.
As a result, Pickup said the province must move away from concentrating care in hospitals because current facilities can’t reasonably carry the load.
“The historical approach to health care delivery, with a heavy focus on hospital-based care, is not sustainable given the province’s fiscal situation,” the report says.
“A new approach, with less emphasis on hospitals and more focus on providing the right type of care in the right location, is required.”
Pickup declined to expand on whether there were too many hospitals in a province with an aging population, and said it was the responsibility of provincial health officials to determine the proper number of hospitals, if there is one.
Leo Glavine, who served as health minister at the time, said that the province had no plans to close hospitals at the time.
Criticism of decision
The plan has been roundly criticized by both opposition parties.
NDP health critic Tammy Martin says the government’s decision to close two hospitals during a “health care crisis” is appalling.
“McNeil and his Liberals are determined to dictate. Schools and hospitals are cornerstones to our communities,” Martin said.
“What is left for them to take out of Cape Breton?”
Progressive Conservative health critic Eddie Orrel blasted the government’s decision, saying it will cause “choas” in Cape Breton.
“Today’s announcement does nothing to address thousands of men, women and children who still don’t have a family doctor or access to the care they deserve, ” says Orrell.
“Premier McNeil will have to explain how shutting down two hospitals fixes the problems we’re facing. Instead of tackling the healthcare crisis, this government has spun it into full blown chaos.”
Both critics pointed to the recent comments from Glavine when he said that there was no plan to close Northside General.
“It’s unacceptable,” Martin said.
“This is Black Monday for health care in Cape Breton,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill.
Dr. Paul MacDonald, a cardiologist who has worked in Cape Breton for more than 20 years, told the news conference health care is complicated and dynamic, and even the region’s newer facilities require improvements to “provide the best care to our patients.”
“I have a number of new specialists coming to our community who are going to practice critical care and pulmonary medicine, and if I bring them into a facility that’s out-of-date, that doesn’t have the equipment and resources that they need, they’re not going to stay,” said MacDonald.
“I think this is very exciting for my department, for critical care, that we’re going to improve the way we manage patients in Cape Breton.”
The Nova Scotia Nurses Union said Monday it was “cautiously optimistic” about the government’s plan.
“At a glance, the nurses’ union sees the plan as a positive in a community that has struggled to maintain or attract physicians and specialists,” union president Janet Hazelton said in a release.
“Enhanced services in critical and cancer care, and state of the art facilities, are welcomed as long as the positions to deliver these services are protected and intact.”
Planning to come, no costs yet
Both communities are a roughly 20-minute drive from the hospitals in Sydney and Glace Bay.
The province is also launching a program in which Cape Breton paramedics will do home visits with patients after they leave the hospital, in an effort to reduce trips to the emergency room – a project estimated to cost about $900,000 annually.
It said the cancer centre at Cape Breton Regional will double in size, and a new laundry centre in North Sydney will replace aging equipment and serve health care facilities throughout the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
The government said hospital beds will be moved to the hospitals in Glace Bay and Sydney and to the Harbourview Hospital, a long-term care and rehabilitation facility in Sydney Mines.
The new community health centres in North Sydney and New Waterford will create space for collaborative family practices and also offer services including blood collection and X-rays.
The new long-term care facilities will have an estimated 48 beds each, the province said.
Planning will take up to a year, and timelines for construction and changes in services will be determined through the planning process.
Costs will also be determined during the planning as tenders are awarded, and the planning itself comes with a roughly $500,000 price tag.
With files from Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press