The number of temporary hospital emergency closures in the Eastern Shore area of Nova Scotia continues to grow.
“They have put on weight in the past few months. The closings in these smaller emergency rooms are pretty cyclical, ”said Roberta Duchesne, Nova Scotia director of health for community and rural areas.
“So usually we see that the occupation of Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital comes with some challenges and nothing happens that would lead to a rapprochement with Twin Oaks. Recently, however, everything has mostly happened at the same time.”
Often times, Duchesne says the problems are due to a lack of doctors and nurses. She says hospitals like the Musquodoboit Valley Memorial Hospital have long been plagued by a shortage of doctors.
Anita-Rose Carter, who lives in Musquodoboit Harbor, said a recent experience in the emergency room at Twin Oaks Memorial Hospital baffled her.
Carter co-founded a nonprofit called Eastern Shore Mental Health. The volunteer group helps connect people with mental health support. She once said she was on her way to assist someone who is in a mental crisis only to find that the nearest emergency room was closed.
Someone came to the door and said the emergency room was closed and I said, ‘Well what should I do? And they said, “Well, there’s another hospital in Dartmouth,” Carter said.
Carter says the experience happened at Twin Oaks Memorial Hospital and she can’t imagine how more rural residents could feel.
“It’s pretty scary, really, because it’s getting more common and it’s pretty alarming.”
“Especially for the folks farther from town like Sheet Harbor and Middle Musquodoboit. I mean, this is her center for mental or physical health, ”said Rose.
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According to Duchesne, access to the emergency room in Musquodoboit Valley has been permanently closed overnight for several years.
She says the inpatient service at this location is still available overnight if needed.
Overall, according to Duchesne, it’s important for rural residents to know that the Nova Scotia Health Department is continually recruiting nurses and doctors for Musquodoboit and Sheet Harbor, but this comes with challenges.
“There have been recruitment awards, but with that comes a return of service and not all caregivers will stay beyond the return of service,” she said.
She adds that all rural communities across the province are competing for health professional retention – a nationwide problem that has led to an outreach.
“We’re very open to community solutions because we believe the best solutions come from the community,” she said.
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Duchesne said the health department met with Sheet Harbor residents over a year ago to discuss the closure of the Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital.
“From then on, there was a community group that helped us manage the closings in the Sheet Harbor area,” she said.
Duchesne said further meetings have been canceled due to the pandemic, but she is encouraging residents to actively participate in discussions about temporary closings of the emergency room.
Adrian Blanchette is an East Coast resident in his 80s. He says he does not blame the staff for closing emergency rooms and describes the routine medical care he received at the Twin Oaks Memorial as “excellent”.
However, he says that he believes that having access to emergency medical care plays a vital role in helping people feel safe in their communities.
“The fact is, this is an emergency room and an emergency room should be available at all times.”