MacMaster grills Delorey on departure of St. Martha’s doctors

By Helen Murphy    

ANTIGONISH – Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster had some pointed questions for Minister of Health and Wellness and Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey in the legislature on April 9 about the number of doctors who have left St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish in the past year, including the departure of surgeon Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray, who had sought better work-life balance.

“Mr. Speaker, in January I put up a Facebook post to solicit support for Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray, and 1,500 people commented in support of her. The public wants her,” he said. “I've heard countless stories from people who felt the care they received from her was special, over and above what they expected. She is a great doctor with a great reputation as a surgeon.

“She was forced to resign because she was put on call without her knowledge when she was out of town, and she could have lost her medical licence had she not shown up. What it was really about was a refusal by the minister's Health Authority to discuss six proposals she had put forward to create a better work-life balance. She would take her fair share of call work, based on the per cent surgeon position she was allocated.”

MacMaster said the minister knew about the situation, because MacGillivray had met with him in his constituency office last fall.

“Why has he done nothing to help her?” he asked.

“That assertion would be inaccurate,” said Delorey. “I hope the member can appreciate that I don't speak about individual employment circumstances on the floor of the Legislature.”

“The truth is that Antigonish has lost 10 doctors over the past year, yet the people of Antigonish are represented by the Minister of Health and Wellness,” said MacMaster. “That doesn't make sense. One would think that if the Minister of Health and Wellness was representing them, they could at least be able to count on him to look after the local hospital.

“Why did these doctors leave? More money and less call work elsewhere, better work-life balance for the same income,” said MacMaster. “One even paid money to buy out their contract because they wanted out.”

Delorey responded that he treats all areas of the province equitably. “I can't believe the member for Inverness is advocating that I should take my position to disproportionately support constituents. When I took my oath as Minister of Health and Wellness, I took an oath to serve all Nova Scotians in that regard. As MLA, I serve my constituents in that respect, just like every other member of this Legislature, but I do not leverage my position to disproportionately benefit myself and my electoral pursuits.”

MacMaster said he is not asking the minister to do something special for his home riding. “I am asking him to consider why 10 doctors have left Antigonish in a year. What the minister cannot deny is that these doctors have left because of the conditions created for them by this government and this Minister of Health and Wellness. How could the minister or anyone in this government refute that?

“Clearly, these doctors came to Antigonish because they wanted to be there. Then, they uprooted their families and left. These are 10 doctors in one hospital that serves a predominantly rural area. Failing them is one thing but failing to take an interest in why they had to leave is another example of this government ignoring the real state of health care, ignoring people it doesn't agree with, and ignoring people it doesn't want to hear from.”

Delorey accused MacMaster of overlooking the recruitment of new doctors who have come into Antigonish over the past year. “The member fails to take into account the efforts that I've taken as an MLA to connect with the local recruitment team and coordinate through my constituency office when there are prospective physicians coming to town to visit to have that meeting.

“In fact, I believe there was a meeting just organized this week. I had the opportunity to attend one of those meetings, which resulted in a psychiatrist and an anaesthetist to come to Antigonish as part of attending those meetings just like every other MLA here has the opportunity to connect with recruiters and as part of their community to help support recruitment to their community.”

MacMaster said the problem with doctors leaving Antigonish affects his constituents in Inverness. “We depend on the regional hospital in Antigonish. People are sent there from Inverness and Cheticamp. Our people have been going there for over 100 years.”

“As I'd indicated previously, recruitment efforts continue and they've continued to be successful in Antigonish and the surrounding communities,” said Delorey. “We've had several specialists come both in Cape Breton and in Antigonish for both specialists and family physicians. These recruitment efforts will continue as we support to the people of health care not just in the community of Antigonish, not just in Inverness, not just the Strait, but from one end of this province to the other.”