Shift reduction considered for Canso hospital

By Helen Murphy    

CANSO – The continuing nursing shortage at Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso could soon lead to the facility being cut back to a 12-hour daytime nursing shift only. If that happens, can the facility continue operating as a hospital? That’s a top-of-mind question for MODG Warden Vernon Pitts.

“My understanding is that they only have nursing personnel to stay open for 12 hours a day,” he told The Journal Tuesday. Warden Pitts said councillors Finn Armsworthy and Janet Peitzsche joined him at a meeting with Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) officials about the nursing shortage in Canso last week, where this possibility was discussed. Peitzsche and Armsworthy represent the two municipal districts served by the hospital.

Pitts said he doesn’t see how the facility can continue to operate as a hospital if it is only staffed with RNs during the day.

“If you can only stay open for 12 hours, you don’t have a hospital,” he said, noting that in-patients require 24 hours of care.

He said Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines and Minister of Health Randy Delorey are working to find a solution for the hospital.

“There’s not a lot we (MODG) can do because it’s not a municipal jurisdiction.”

Warden Pitts said he also worries how the shortage and the potential cutback of nursing hours at the hospital could end up affecting the nursing home that shares the same building. “It could be a domino effect,” he said.

“If you can’t get staff from the hospital, well what’s going to happen when Peter starts robbing Paul? Because if one takes from the other, one will be short.”

An idea the warden would like examined is extending the Northern Tax Credit to rural areas in the province struggling to attract and retain doctors and nurses, as an additional financial incentive targeting only healthcare.

He said he expects the situation at the hospital will be on the agenda at next week’s regular monthly meeting of MODG council.

The warden said he is also concerned because he has heard that changes at the hospital could be coming faster than he understood from last week’s meeting with the NSHA.

“The rules of the game have changed all of a sudden,” he said. “We have to keep communicating.”

Pitts said he doesn’t believe that all the ideas have been tried yet, in terms of finding a solution.

Pitts said a couple of nurse retirements are coming up in Canso as well.

“And those nurses are maxed out,” he said. “I feel so sorry for them.”

The warden said he is hopeful that the minister will take some action in the short term to address the shortage, such as arranging temporary nurse placements in Canso.

The Journal’s questions to the NSHA were not answered by press time.