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CODE ZERO: Data shows Nova Scotia ERs closed 1,500 times in 2018

Click to play video: 'Rural Nova Scotians pushing to stop ER closures' Rural Nova Scotians pushing to stop ER closures
WATCH: Nova Scotia’s health minister believes the new agreement between the province and its doctors will provide a solution to an increasing number of temporary ER closures in rural areas – Dec 18, 2019

This the fifth in a series of stories on temporary emergency room closures in Nova Scotia. To check out the rest of our CODE ZERO series, click here.

New data released on Thursday by the Nova Scotia government paints a grim picture of the province’s health-care system.

A Global News analysis of Nova Scotia’s annual accountability report on emergency departments reveals that 2018 saw a new high in the number of temporary emergency room closures at 1,504.

That’s nearly double the number of temporary closures in the previous year and more than triple the number in 2016.

The temporary ER closures are unscheduled, can come with as little as half a day’s notice and are often the result of a shortage of physicians or nurses.

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READ MORE: Temporary emergency room closures on the rise across Nova Scotia

And they show no sign of slowing down. According to Global News’ analysis of the report data, there were 520 temporary ER closures in the first three months of 2019, the most recent data available.

That figure is higher than the number of temporary ER closures in 2014, 2015 or 2016.

It’s a situation that Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston characterized as a “crisis” in a press release on Thursday.

“[The] announcement paints a dismal picture of mismanagement from the Liberal government,” Houston said.

“Nova Scotians are terrified that when they need emergency assistance, it won’t be there for them.”

Click to play video: 'Temporary emergency room closures on the rise across Nova Scotia' Temporary emergency room closures on the rise across Nova Scotia
Temporary emergency room closures on the rise across Nova Scotia – Dec 16, 2019

The province’s health minister told Global News on Wednesday — one day before the new figures were released — that a new agreement between the province’s government and its doctors will provide a solution to temporary ER closures in rural Nova Scotia.

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Randy Delorey said the new master agreement, a four-year labour deal approved by Doctors Nova Scotia last month, will make the province’s emergency physicians the highest-paid in the region.

“We believe this will help with both our recruitment, retention and perhaps encourage some physicians who may not have been providing those services but have the expertise to do so to maybe consider filling those positions as well,” he said.

In the same conversation, Delorey characterized the recent increase in temporary ER closures as the culmination of 15 to 20 years of health policy rather than the result of actions taken by the Liberal government, which swept into power in 2013 under Premier Stephen McNeil.

He admitted that it’s not ideal for local emergency departments to close temporarily but said it’s important to remember that regional hospitals do not close, remaining open “100 per cent of the time” even when smaller, rural facilities are forced to shutter due to staffing issues.

“So it’s not a decision made lightly,” he said.

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