Fight for Canso hospital

Nursing shortage cuts ER, stops admissions

By Kathernie Murphy    

CANSO – The people of Canso and MODG are digging in to fight for the future of Eastern Memorial Hospital (EMH).

On Thursday, May 9, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) announced that the emergency department and in-patient care at EMH will be reduced from twenty-four hour service, to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., in response to a shortage of nurses.

MODG council held an emergency meeting on May 10 to discuss a course of action. Council voted unanimously on several measures to respond to the decision made by NSHA, and to promote recruitment of medical professionals to the area.

CAO Barry Carroll proposed that the several motions be passed, noting that these actions are unprecedented.

Among them is an additional $10,000 per person, in incentives for recruitment of permanent placement nurses and doctors at either of the two local hospitals (Canso and Guysborough). The municipality will also allocate $10,000 for councillors from districts four, five and eight to take a delegation of local residents to meet with senior representatives of the health authority and potentially others in government.

MODG will also send letters to the Minister of Health Randy Delorey, Premier Stephen McNeil, MLA and Minister Lloyd Hines, and NSHA CEO Janet Knox to express the municipality’s dissatisfaction with the decision to reduce emergency room and in-patient services at EMH. The letters will ask for the province to guarantee that this decision is temporary, and for the health authority’s guarantee that services will return to normal once new nurses are hired.

In addition, the municipality will ask for a federal income tax deduction be implemented and be applicable to medical personnel working in hospitals and long-term care facilities in communities with a population of 5,000 or less. The municipality plans to draft draft an emergency resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to seek their support to lobby the federal government to help secure an income tax deduction for individuals working in hospitals and long-term care facilities in rural communities.

Finally, MODG requests the presence of NSHA CEO Janet Knox, MLA Hines and Minister Delorey for a meeting with MODG within the community at their earliest convenience.

Councillors Janet Peitzsche and Fin Armsworthy, whose districts are served by EMH in Canso, participated in the emergency meeting via conference call.

Councillor Peitzsche raised concerns about the motives or plan behind the decision to reduce services at EMH. She vocalized anxiety within the community regarding the hospital returning to regular hours once additional nurses are secured.

“We need to know what we’re dealing with here,” said Peitzsche. “I don’t mind fighting a fight, but I don’t want to get punched in the face after I win.”

District eight Councillor Fin Armsworthy suggested that when CEO Janet Knox, MLA Hines and Minister Delorey visit the district for the requested meeting, it should be open to the public and take place in Canso.

When the day shift ended at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 12, the doors of EMH closed for the first time since the announcement. In response, close to 200 residents showed up in a rally of support for the hospital and its staff. MLA and cabinet minister Lloyd Hines spoke to the crowd with the help of a firetruck P.A. system.

Hines began his speech by thanking the residents for showing their support as well as the staff of the hospital, saying, “I want to reassure them that we know how valuable they are.”

The MLA emphasized the importance of building on the momentum in the community and putting a working group together as necessary steps to returning EMH to full operation.

While speaking to The Journal at the rally, Hines said it’s his job as MLA to fight for the community. He spoke on the importance of rural representation in today’s economic landscape.

“These communities need representation. People outside the area are focused on their own life. We’ve got a big city in Halifax, and things are pretty good up there – but it’s not that way in rural areas.”

He also pushed back on suggestions that the reduced hours indicate a larger problem than staff shortages.

“The problem here, it’s not a conspiracy against rural areas, it’s a reflection of how our society has evolved. This is a genuine shortage of nurses.”

The rally was organized by local resident Susan O’Handley. She attended the emergency meeting at council on Friday afternoon and plans for the rally were underway by Friday night.

O’Handley said she was extremely impressed with the turnout of Canso and area residents, especially given the short notice. When asked about the response to the hospital cutbacks so far, she noted that residents are very concerned, and the response has been an emotional one.

“They just feel that we are so far from another facility. It’s 40 minutes to Guysborough Memorial Hospital, and an hour and a half to St. Martha’s in Antigonish. That’s a long way to go to stabilize a patient.”

O’Handley described the loss as being more than just a reduction of services, but also the quality of service that EMH provides.

“The care our hospital provides is simply amazing. Patients always remark on the fact that the care is amazing, the food is great, and the facility is so clean.”

O’Handley has had first-hand experience with the quality of care at EMH. “I was personally involved with their palliative care for my mom until she passed at EMH in 2017. They could not do enough for us as a family to make our time there with our mother as easy on us as possible.”

In terms of finding a solution, O’Handley says there needs to be a team approach to focus on both short- and long-term goals.

“We appear to all be on the same page at this point. With support and hard work we can do it.”