According to a local physician, the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre is facing a crisis.
“The suffering is getting worse,” said Dr. Brian Ferguson. “We’re down to critical staff right now. We lose one more specialist, we lose one more GP, we’re done.”
Ferguson has been a doctor for 37 years, 32 of which have been spent in Amherst. In fact, both Ferguson and his wife have practiced in the small community over the last three decades.
In addition to caring for 3,000 patients, Ferguson says he spends a lot of time at the local hospital.
“Besides my office and hospital work, I did 76 hours of emergency in the last two weeks. I’m 63. You can only flog that horse for so long,” he told Global News.
Ferguson says the staffing levels are so bad right now that doctors are coming together to keep the hospital open.
“Our emergency room should have comfortably, to serve the community, should have 12 doctors. We’re down to seven,” he said.
“We don’t do eight-hour shifts like a lot of emergency rooms do, we do twelve-hour shifts. So if I’m on call tonight in emergency, I work in my office until 4, I go home for a couple hours, I work from 7 to 7 in the morning, go home, sleep for a couple hours and go back to work. That’s how we’ve survived doing it.”
WATCH: ‘My son calls him Uncle Burden, as if he’s family’: Nova Scotia doctor celebrates big milestone
Ferguson recently put up a post on Facebook where he explained the situation that doctors in Nova Scotia face and criticized the provincial government, even making a comparison between Premier Stephen McNeil and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Deliberate action, willful neglect, is the mantra of our premier,” said Ferguson.
“Maybe he can’t communicate with professionals, maybe he doesn’t have the educational background to communicate with professionals. We do have a lot of people in this province that can run this province better that do have those virtues.”
Ferguson says Amherst isn’t the only area suffering. With nearly half of Nova Scotia’s population living outside the Halifax Regional Municipality, he says there are unique issues the province faces when delivering health care.
Ferguson was involved in the Gallant Report in the 1980s, which looked at the Nova Scotia health care model. One of the things Ferguson says government can do is decentralize some of the health care system and put representatives in each regional hospital, that way they can better understand the needs of people in those areas.
“If you have somebody here reporting daily or weekly or monthly about how our situation is doing then we’ll be able to take care of the half million people that don’t live in the Metro area and that will take care of the unique geographic and demographic issues that were identified by the Royal Commission of Health Care.”
WATCH: Nova Scotia announces new immigration stream to attract more doctors
Neither the premier or the health minister were available for interviews on Friday to discuss Dr. Ferguson’s concerns.
In an emailed statement, Eileen MacIsaac, director of internal communications for the northern zone of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said physician recruitment is a priority and that they are seeing successes throughout Nova Scotia, despite challenges.
“NSHA thanks the hard working physicians and staff who are providing great care to Nova Scotians. Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre is and will continue to be an important part of the health system and we want Nova Scotians to be confident they will have access to the care they need,” the statement read.
“NSHA is aware of the concerns of the medical staff in Cumberland County and is working with physician leaders from Cumberland County as well as community leaders and the Department of Health and Wellness to provide support. For example, it’s enhancing the program for locum physicians to help with short and long term vacancies at Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, and DHW and Dalhousie University recently announced two new family medicine residency seats for Amherst which will help recruit family doctors to the area.”