Sheet Harbour residents concerned about ER closure

By Lois Ann Dort    

SHEET HARBOUR – Six days is a long time to wait especially when what you are waiting for is urgent care. Last week the people of Sheet Harbour were informed that the emergency department at their local hospital, Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital, would be closed from Thursday, July 19 at 8 a.m. to Wednesday, July 25 at 8 a.m. due to a physician shortage. This is not the first time the ER has been closed in Sheet Harbour, there was a similar closure in April, but it is the longest period without ER service in recent memory.

David Hendsbee, the Halifax Regional Municipality councillor for Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore told The Journal on Saturday that he's been hearing from his constituents about the shortfall in health care services in Sheet Harbour.

“They are pretty concerned and upset about it,” Hendsbee said adding, “They wish that the provincial government would find ways to get doctors or licenced nurse practitioners, or RNs on board for long term scheduling there. Personally, I would love to see a doctor or nurse practitioner be a resident of the community and probably serve the Musquodoboit Valley and Sheet Harbour because both hospitals are experiencing shortages. It would be nice if they could collaborate and cooperated between the two facilities.”

Hendsbee said the recurring ER closures are frustrating; working against rural communities that are trying to retain and attract residents. “We are trying to preserve our rural way of life, trying to keep people from moving into town. That's a problem, our demographic, our older population are moving into town because of either A; they can't keep up with their properties or B; they want to be close to services if necessary. The demographic shift is really hurting the Eastern Shore. We need to have that shift the other way. We can retain our population base by having the doctors and nurses stationed here.”

Recruitment of new doctors is difficult and until recently, Sheet Harbour was excluded from the provincial/federal student loan forgiveness program for medical students willing to work in rural areas. “Rural Halifax was excluded from that (student loan forgiveness)...They were trying to provide this for areas that were rural, remote and had low populations. Sheet Harbour does not have a population base close to what Pictou County has; why give loan forgiveness in Pictou County but not in rural HRM? The problem was, they considered HRM as one and the people were all downtown Halifax, downtown Dartmouth. But that is not the case with Eastern Shore. The provincial and federal governments finally made accommodations to allow for student loan forgiveness in the Eastern Shore so hopefully that may be the ability to attract young doctors, young nurses to come to the Eastern Shore to do their practice.

“Senator Tom McInnis held a public meeting to try to elevate the concern and profile of the issue, trying to bring it to the attention of the federal Liberal government, and Liberal provincial government,” Hendsbee replied when asked what local residents and officials were doing to try to solve the doctor shortage in the area.

“We have so much to offer; beautiful scenery, our way of living is very relaxed, were conscious of supporting local – I think it would be a great opportunity for a young doctor or young nurse to come and settle here,” said Hendsbee.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities recently held a meeting that addressed the doctor shortage in the province. “We are trying to recruit and attract doctors. Basically what we need to do is sell our communities as comfortable and affordable. The question mark is, do we start giving tax breaks to doctors to move in? Those are things that cross a fine line. We're getting into things that are provincial jurisdiction. When we start giving tax breaks to medical professional instead of giving tax breaks to someone else, it just seems to be a cascade effect of how do we attract certain professionals to an area. Health care is critical though,” concluded Hendsbee.

The provincial Minister of Health and Wellness Randy Delorey was not available for comment on this story before press.