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Doctor, nursing shortage drives emergency room closures across Nova Scotia

Click to play video: 'Number of ER closures expected to get worse before it gets better'
Number of ER closures expected to get worse before it gets better
Emergency room closures in Nova Scotia continue to be driven by a nurse and doctor shortage, and it’s expected to get worse before it gets better. Jesse Thomas has more. – Oct 25, 2021

Emergency Department closures in Nova Scotia continue to be driven up by nurse and doctor shortages.

It’s been an ongoing problem in Nova Scotia for several years but the new Progressive Conservative government was largely elected on its promise to fix the provinces’ broken health care system.

A freedom-of-information request obtained by the Nova Scotia NDP has shown that the number of emergency department closures continues to increase, especially in smaller, more rural communities.

“People should be able to access care when they need it, in their communities,” said Susan LeBlanc, NDP health and wellness critic. “This emergency department situation is just one part of our broken health care system but it’s a really important part.”

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The document shows that there have been 170 emergency department closures in the first month since the PC government took power and that number is expected to double by the end of October.

Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton says the doctor and nursing shortage seems even more severe right now because all provinces are experiencing that same shortage of professional healthcare workers.

“There’s a national shortage and so there’s a lot of competition for the nurse across the country and recruitment efforts are really picking up,” Hazelton said.

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Hazelton said the province needs to ramp up its recruitment efforts and start by securing all new nursing grads here.

“We need to get them (nursing students) early and get them signed on as soon as possible and make it a matter of whatever it takes,” Hazleton said. “There’s signing bonuses and all kinds of recruitment efforts and competition going on across the country right now.”

Click to play video: 'More than 2,000 job postings in Nova Scotia health-care system'
More than 2,000 job postings in Nova Scotia health-care system

Smaller communities and rural hospitals in Nova Scotia have been more susceptible to emergency department closures and this means patients are having to travel further across the province to access care, it is a crisis in emergency care said NDP leader Gary Burrill.

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“Far too many people in our province have to drive several communities over to find an ER that is open, and others are forced to wait for 12 hours or more to receive care,” Burrill said. “I believe (Premier) Tim Houston when he says he understands there is a problem. But that is not what’s at issue. At issue is what the government is going to do about it.”

Houston and the Progressive Conservatives vowed they’ll fix the health care crisis if elected by using record spending.

Of the 343 expected closures come Oct. 30, 105 are due to nursing shortages, two are related to paramedic shortages and 236 are attributed to physician shortages.

“The PCs need to get to work right away on their promise of fixing healthcare,” LeBlanc said. “We hear they are working on things but we need to see some real action like right now.”

One of the PCs’ first moves in government was to appoint Dr. Kevin Orrell as CEO of the newly created office of health care professionals and recruitment.

Doctors Nova Scotia said the new recruitment office needs to create a vision for primary care across the province, especially in these smaller communities, where each one has its unique needs.

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“The office needs to determine how many family doctors, how many nurse practitioners, how many care providers we need in each community to fulfill those roles and then recruit specifically into those roles,” said Dr. Heather Johnson, Doctors Nova Scotia president.

The emergency closures are mainly impacting smaller communities because of the unique staffing challenges smaller community physicians’ roles require, as rural physicians have many roles the fill in the communities they serve.

“In bigger centres, people are full-time emergency room doctors, that’s their job but in smaller communities, that same physician is running an office, and looking after inpatients and covering shifts, so there’s a limit in how many hours a day one physician can provide coverage.”

 

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