Canso hospital

Community shares ideas for solving nursing crisis

By Helen Murphy    

CANSO – The people most impacted by the nighttime closure of Canso’s Eastern Memorial Hospital came out to help with solutions on Monday night. More than 100 people filled the Canso Lions Club for a “community conversation” hosted by the working group tasked with looking for solutions to the nursing shortage that resulted in a halt to hospital admissions and nighttime ER closure starting May 12.

Co-chairs of the Canso Stakeholders Working Group – Angela MacArthur, director of integrated health for rural hospitals, and community member Susan O’Handley – introduced all member of the working group who were in attendance. Brett MacDougall, executive director operations for eastern zone of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, spoke about the timeline of events that led to the current nursing shortage. They include a nurse taking a position elsewhere and one off for personal reasons. There is also an upcoming retirement and maternity leave.

In early May, the situation went from one of concern to “this is a serious, urgent issue,” MacDougall said, with the hospital at less than 50 per cent of its normal nursing level.

“It’s not something we knew about for a long time,” he said. “It’s something that built up very quickly.”

Addressing the nursing challenge in Canso is not as simple as finding a nurse elsewhere, he said. A certain skillset is required in Canso, including ER training.

NSHA looked at data around services provided at Eastern Memorial Hospital in deciding upon an immediate response to the shortage, and found that 90 per cent of ER visits happen between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

“That’s not to say emergencies don’t happen in the nighttime,” said MacDougall. The nighttime closure was chosen as the least-disruptive solution.

Since then, he said the local community and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough “stepped up in a huge way” to help with the crisis.

Warden Vernon Pitts told the crowd he was also surprised by the suddenness of the urgent situation. “I just about fell out of my chair,” he said of learning about the extent of the nursing shortage.

“We need to start thinking about things differently,” he said. “When we talk about recruiting, we’re often talking about recruiting a whole family.” He stressed the importance of promoting quality of life and the welcoming nature of the community.

He asked those in attendance to have an “open mind” when working in small groups at the meeting to come up with suggestions and ideas. “It’s our facility. Let’s work together to keep it open.”

Participants were asked to work in groups to share ideas on how the community can help attract and retain nurses, and remove barriers to recruitment.

“Now it’s your turn to help us,” said O’Handley.

She read a message from MLA Lloyd Hines, a working group member who was not able to attend the meeting, then added: “The Honourable Lloyd Hines has been remarkable. I’m quite impressed by the help we are getting to date.”

Suggestions and ideas included providing a pay incentive similar to that available for northern communities, getting a priority designation for hiring by NSHA, undertaking a social media campaign, branding for the community, addressing the shortage of childcare, promoting Canso as a safe community, and drawing upon the services of retired RNs.

The input from residents was gathered and will be analyzed by the working group, with a further sharing of the feedback to come.