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‘I needed help’: East Hants doctor says he asked government for more support for ‘several’ years

Doctor in East Hants, N.S., calls it quits over lack of provincial support
WATCH: A chronic doctor shortage in East Hants, N.S., is about to get worse. Alexa MacLean explains.

For nearly 40 years, Dr. David Sheehy has served generations of families in the East Hants community of Shubenacadie.

His community roots run deep. Not only is he a third-generation Sheehy, the location his clinic sits on used to be home to his grandfather’s blacksmith shop.

For Sheehy, the community and the people in it hold a special place in his heart.

“Everybody knows my family, I know all their family. So, as a physician, I kind of probably functioned more as part of a community group,” he said.

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Recently, he posted a notice in his waiting room addressed to his 1,500-plus patients.

The notice details why he has decided to close his clinic doors after 37 years of practice.

He says the challenges he’s faced as a solo practitioner became too much to manage on his own and his requests for support from the provincial government have fallen on deaf ears.

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“The bottom line was, I needed help. I needed a partner. So, I really pushed to try and do that,” Sheehy said.

“I had multiple meetings with the health authority which, at that time, they were focused on the development of these ‘collaborative care’ units and they said, your practice is not set up for a collaborative care. You’re not going to get that.”

The province has heavily invested in establishing collaborative family practice teams.

So far, 80 are in various stages of operation. Each clinic has a minimum of three family health care providers and at least two professional disciplines: a nurse practitioner, family doctor, or a family practice nurse.

Margaret Miller is the MLA for the area and expressed sentiments over the community losing Dr. Sheehy.

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“It’s important to note that Dr. Sheehy has been a very much loved and respected physician in Shubenacadie for many years. I can certainly understand his viewpoint, he was just not able to get the physical support that he needed to be able to continue in his practice,” Miller said.

Miller says Dr. Sheehy isn’t the only family doctor leaving East Hants.

“We’re all looking for a solution for East Hants and what we can do because it’s not just Dr. Sheehy, it’s also doctors that have left in Elmsdale, ones that have left in the Kennetcook area, that are leaving us with a chronic shortage in this area,” Miller said.

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She says a community committee has been created to address the shortage, adding that stakeholders from government to health recruiters are all working together to try and attract physicians to the community.

“With our own area, we’re minutes away from the airport, it’s a fast drive into the city on the highway,” Miller said.

“So I think Hants East has a lot to offer and not just urban, not just the corridor area of Hants East but even the more rural areas, we have a different lifestyle. It’s not just rural but it’s rural with quick access to more culture and I think it’s a good balance that we can use to attract physicians to this area.”

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Dr. Sheehy says he is in regular touch with the recruiting department of the health authority, but so far, there have been no successful candidates to fill his upcoming vacancy.

The health authority is actively recruiting physicians for the area to fill several vacancies.

Rural Nova Scotians pushing to stop ER closures
Rural Nova Scotians pushing to stop ER closures

One of the challenges the department faces is finding doctors interested in taking on small, or solo practices.

Dr. Sheehy says he has grave concerns over the impact his departure will have on his most vulnerable patients, many of whom are now on a provincial waitlist for a family doctor with tens of thousands of people.

“A lot of these folks are going to spiral out of control. Their diabetes will get out of control, their coronary disease, their COPD,” Sheehy said.

“They’ll end up either going into hospital, getting urgent care — which they maybe wouldn’t have if I was here to look after them — or, you know, maybe they’ll die. Maybe they’ll have an acute illness and die.”

An emailed statement from Health Minister Randy Delorey, thanked Dr. Sheehy for his years of community service.

The email also outlines how the province plans to alleviate physician recruiting and retention pressures.

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“We recognize there have been challenges and are confident the new four-year agreement with Doctors Nova Scotia will address the issues raised. The new agreement provides an additional [$135 million] in compensation and incentives for doctors and specialists, including new fee codes for family doctors,” the email statement from Delorey reads.

The agreement also includes a pay increase that now makes doctors in Nova Scotia the highest paid in Atlantic Canada.

However, Dr. Sheehy feels an immediate response to the shortage is required in order to stunt what he sees as a growing and potentially deadly problem.

“This is going to get much worse. If the health authority is unable to address these primary health care needs, these huge shortages, you’re going to have people dying and I’m not trying to sound alarmist but this is the reality that I see,” Dr. Sheehy said.