Extended N.S. family prepares to lose family doctor and go on provincial wait list

East Hants residents losing hope over finding family doctor
WATCH: The early retirement of a rural Nova Scotia doctor means 1,500 people will soon be out of a family doctor.

In rural Nova Scotia communities, many generations of families all have the same primary care provider. From the grandparents to their grandchildren, the entire family sees the same family doctor.

Such is the case for Krista Manuel and her family, who all live in the East Hants region.

“My parents, my daughter, my grandmother, aunt, uncle, children … so, this is affecting us greatly and it’s very unfortunate,” she said.

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READ MORE: East Hants doctor says he asked government for more support for ‘several’ years

The Manuel family is about to lose their family doctor, Dr. David Sheehy, who is closing his solo practice this April, after 37 years of medical service in East Hants.

Sheehy has a notice to his patients posted on his waiting room walls outlining all of the reasons he says he has ‘no choice’ but to close his clinic.

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Part of it reads: “I have done my best over the last 5 years to get help here.

“I have lobbied the health authority on many occasions and had multiple meetings over the years to no avail.”

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Dr. David Sheehy letter
The notice to his patients, Dr. David Sheehy has posted on his clinic walls in Shubenacadie. Dr. David Sheehy

Health minister Randy Delorey said he can’t discuss specific details about Sheehy’s situation but has expressed sentiments over the closing of his practice after so many years of service.

Delorey said the province is taking measures to address a doctor shortage that isn’t unique to Nova Scotia.

“The challenges and needs for physicians extends right across the country and really much of the western world.”

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“So, we are the only jurisdiction, that I’m aware of in Canada, expanding both our medical school program, as well as our residency program,” Delorey said, during a provincial cabinet scrum on Thursday.

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Hundreds of East Hants elderly patients soon to be without primary care provider
Hundreds of East Hants elderly patients soon to be without primary care provider

At the end of 2019, Nova Scotia doctors approved two four-year labour agreements with the province that will see family doctors, anesthetists and emergency physicians earn the highest pay in Atlantic Canada.

“These contracts begin to recognize the value of Nova Scotia’s doctors and will help to begin stabilizing some of the most vital services in our health-care system so that patients have better access to the care they need when they need it,” said Dr. Gary Ernest, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, in a statement after the agreements were signed.

While these new incentives aim to help address the widespread physician shortages in Nova Scotia, families like Manuel say they’re frustrated changes like wage increases, weren’t made earlier.

“I don’t want to hear the minister say we’re trying, trying isn’t enough. We are already in a health care crisis, do something about it. Give us the doctors we need, pay the doctors to be here, they’re our first go to,” Manuel said.

READ MORE: Family of 91-year-old rural N.S. man scrambling to find him a family doctor

The health authority says it is working with the East Hants community to try and fill several family doctor vacancies in the region.

While several physicians have visited the communities, no commitments have been made to take over any of the vacant practices.

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Part of the challenges, the authority says, is that many physicians aren’t interested in taking over solo, or small practices.

Currently, there are 46,991 Nova Scotians on the wait-list registry waiting to find a family doctor.