Guysborough celebrates opening of Dr. Anita Foley Health Services Centre

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBROUGH – “How long is a lifetime?” asked MLA Lloyd Hines at the grand opening and naming ceremony of the Dr. Anita Foley Health Services Centre in Guysborough on Saturday, June 25. “Because that is what this woman has given us; a lifetime,” he stated, referencing the guest of honour, Dr. Anita Foley, who sat with friends and family at the front of a large gathering celebrating the new wing of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital and honouring her for her long service to the people of Guysborough and surrounding communities.

The event welcomed hundreds of local well-wishers and dignitaries from across the province, including Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine as well as the President and CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Janet Knox. Speakers included members of the community who had worked with Dr. Foley over the years, chair of the Hospital Foundation Bill Innes and the Guysborough Memorial Hospital facility manager Elaine MacMaster.

Guest speakers directed their remarks to the contributions Dr. Foley has made to the community over her career in healthcare and to the importance of the hospital to the community. The one-stop-shopping healthcare services approach offered at the centre has been fully embraced by Guysborough Memorial Hospital, which will serve as a model for other health care facilitates in the province. “The future of health care is right here, right now,” said Glavine of the newly opened wing of the hospital.

The warden of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, Vernon Pitts, spoke of Dr. Foley’s commitment to ensure that health services were always available to the local residents. “We were truly blessed when this lady came to town...She has left her fingerprints all over this community.”

Among the stories and praises for Dr. Foley shared at the podium, Bill Innis spoke of the personal sacrifices she made to ensure Guysborough Memorial Hospital never suffered an E.R. closure in the early 1990s when E.R. closures were a regular occurrence. “Dr. Foley was alone in her practice for seven months. During that time she was on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day. She worked all day with a full office practice, served inpatients at the hospital and solely manned the emergency department at the hospital as the physician on call. Sleep was rare during those months...She would not let down her patients...or give any reason for the government to close our rural hospital...The emergency department at Guysborough Memorial Hospital never closed in the 40 years Dr. Foley has served.”

After many glowing speeches and a presentation of flowers by local children Abigail Surette and Bryson Luddington, Dr. Foley took to the stage. She started her comments by relaying a joke about a woman who attends her husband’s funeral and who, after a heart-warming eulogy by the minister, asked, “Who is he talking about?’ “That’s the way I feel...I’m an ordinary and often times very cranky person,” said Foley jokingly, setting the mood for the rest of her presentation. Foley went on to describe her early years in Guysborough, her initial doubts about her capability as a medical practitioner and the lessons she learned from her fellow doctors and her patients.

Dr. Fred Archibald was one of her first colleagues in medicine in Guysborough and Foley relayed a story in which she and Archibald were called out to a fire at the house of one of their patients. The smoke was thick and the firemen could not find the occupant of the house. Archibald knew just where the patient would be and went into the house, rescued the patient and took her to the hospital then returned to the office on Main Street. From Archibald, Foley said, she learned that a country doctor had to know more about their patients than just the medicine they were taking.

Foley also noted that she had learned a lot from her colleague Cathy Kelley, who would look at a patient and declare in a strong Newfoundland accent, ‘We aren’t doing much for Buddy here so let’s ship him out.’ Foley said, “I learned not to take ‘No’ from a specialist.” Many of Foley’s colleagues can attest to that fact and patients are always reassured knowing that Foley is fighting in their corner.

Foley regaled the 500-plus people in attendance with anecdotes about patients (no names of course), and tales of the unexpected souvenirs she’s kept from her practice. One such item is a hash pipe from an overly dramatic accident victim who perked right up and stopped asking for pain medications when he was informed he could get them after the police had questioned him. “A miracle; instant cure. He jumped off that stretcher, ran across the emergency room and emptied his pockets of medical substances. So when Martin Kramer (RCMP Officer) walked in the door he was lying like an angel under the blankets,” said Foley to howls of laughter from the audience.

Another story Foley told was about a patient who always started every appointment with the lament, ‘Call Dennis Haverstock Doc. Tell him to come and get me. I’m dying.’ “Now she’s still here,” said Foley with a chuckle.

Along with hilarious and heart-warming anecdotes, Foley also thanked the people of Guysborough, her coworkers, hospital staff and office staff over the years. She concluded with a comments based on the teachings of Saint Paul, “Keep your eyes open. Hold tight to your convictions. Give all you got. And love without stopping.”