SHEET HARBOUR – Two months after its introduction, the new urgent care centre at Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital (ESMH) in Sheet Harbour is exceeding expectations, says the Nova Scotia Health (NSH) administrator in charge.
“Overall, it’s been going well,” ESMH manager Amy Donnelly told The Journal. “We opened on March 6 and, since then, we’ve had a steady increase in opening hours and lots of lots of interest in covering shifts from the physicians and the nurse practitioner that work on site here. We’re up to four to five days a week, most weeks, which is great.”
In an interview just before a public meeting on May 11 in Sheet Harbour to update the community on the progress of the new facility, Donnelly said, “I figured it would be more gradual, but [everyone] has become interested pretty quickly.”
Last week, ESMH added one 12-hour shift to bring the total to eight days, from May 17 to 31 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.), up from an expected two or three days per week. That’s a significant improvement from earlier this year, when the hospital’s underutilized emergency department had been regularly closed and seemed likely to enter its third straight month of shutdown due to a shortage of doctors to provide round-the-clock service.
The urgent care facility — which effectively replaced the emergency department — was introduced to handle non-life-threatening conditions or ailments at least two days a week, on a same-day, appointment-only basis. According to the provincial government announcement at the time, the reclassification provided residents with “more consistent access to [treatment for] those with unexpected, but non-life-threatening health concerns.”
Those ailments include: mild abdominal pain; simple fractures; limb sprains; mild muscle strains and sprains; mild headaches; earaches; minor infections; skin and eye irritations; mild asthma; small lacerations; mild mental health support; and minor respiratory issues.
The advantage of the new centre has been two-fold: same-day service for patients, and more money and better working conditions for physicians, Donnelly said.
“A lack of physicians or nursing recruitments was always going to be a challenge. There was a lot of pre-planning and conversation happening for over a year [as we looked at] at different models around the province, and different ways that we could tailor them for the population in this area.
“Once we were given approvals, all that planning helped us initiate something quickly. Now, as a reclassified urgent care facility, there’s a different payment model [for doctors]…We still have some open appointments just about every day. We haven’t had any days where we’re full or have had to close the phones early. So, that’s good, as there’s still more capacity.”
Donnelly noted that the ESMH urgent care centre is now functioning as one spoke of a planned ‘hub and spoke’ model linking it to the other two hospitals in the area — Musquodoboit Valley Memorial in Middle Musquodoboit and Twin Oaks Memorial in Musquodoboit Harbour.
“Twin Oaks is the hub, with an emergency department, and the two spokes are Musquodoboit Valley Memorial and us. We’re both urgent services hospitals that provide set hours and times of the day for booked appointments.”
The smooth functioning arrived just in time. “We do know that [people] come for cottages and camping in the summertime,” she said. “So, I expect that the uptake is probably going to be a little bit higher [now].”
She emphasized, however, that the new urgent care facility at Sheet Harbour — which does not take ambulances — is not all-inclusive. “There will still be those true emergencies that this type of model does not serve. So, we need to really stress to the community that it’s important to call 911 for those situations.”
Last week’s meeting also heard from Eastern Shore MLA Kent Smith, provincial primary and emergency health services personnel, and Sheet Harbour’s community advisory committee on ongoing doctor recruitment efforts and local service delivery.