Consultant proposes ‘flexible coverage model’ for local hospitals

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
March 17 2021

GUYSBOROUGH – The communities of Guysborough and Canso got a look at health care consultant Mary Jane Hampton’s proposed health services delivery model for Eastern Memorial Hospital (EMH) in Canso and Guysborough Memorial Hospital (GMH) in Guysborough last week.

Hampton and a team representing numerous areas of interest with Nova Scotia Health held meetings in both communities with hospital physicians and staff, community stakeholder groups and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG).

Hampton was hired to identify possible solutions to the increasing interruption in emergency care at GMH and EMH. Recruitment of physicians and nurses continues to be identified as the main challenge to maintaining regular service, although Canso has had made good progress in nurse recruitment and locum physician scheduling.

The Journal spoke with Madonna MacDonald, Nova Scotia Health VP operations in Eastern Zone, on March 12 about the recommendations to date and the feedback from last week’s community meetings.

At this point, MacDonald said, there are no plans to change the service model for emergency rooms in Canso or Guysborough; nor are there any plans, over time, to close them. The consultant’s report proposes potential solutions – not yet approved – to reduce scheduled closures, which will require further feedback from physicians, the Department of Health and Wellness and community members.

“She’s (Hampton) saying, ‘Look at the time of use where people access the majority of services and care’ and focus … availability to those times. She’s also proposed that we work with physicians to organize care, how the physicians work together, in a different way. It may give more flexibility and availability to continue services,” MacDonald said.

In formulating the report, Hampton looked at patterns of use in the ER, inpatient and other services, and where residents in the catchment areas of EMH and GMH accessed primary care.

“Health care is an important resource in all of our communities,” said MacDonald, “We want to make sure we follow our data, but it’s just one piece of the information. We really look to see that services are provided close to home, that we understand the pattern of use by the public.”

When asked if the public would have access to the report and recommendations before it was approved, MacDonald said, “The plan is to work with these stakeholder groups that have been so critical to helping us recruit nurses and physicians to the area. We will work with those groups and, as we go forward, of course information will be shared, and we’ll seek information from the public in terms of their thoughts and ideas regarding health services.”

In Canso, ER closures last year were linked to nursing shortages, which have since been reduced. In Guysborough, the increase in ER closures over the past year is due to lack of physician coverage.

MacDonald said, “Our challenge has been recruiting family physicians in the area, particularly in the Guysborough area. In Canso, there is a model that includes long term locums, so physicians are committed to coming in and working for a length of time – say a week at a time – and doing the whole range of family practice services. In Guysborough, it is a different model where family physicians live and work in the community.

“What the consultant has proposed is a flexible coverage model between and among the two communities; (it) may lead to more recruitment. What we heard, shared in particular by the community representatives from the Canso area, is that the model that is in their community is working for them.”

The meetings held last week were part one of a multi-step plan to create solutions to health care service issues in the MODG. “We shared information on health data for the area, how people use our services and provided updates on recruitment,” said MacDonald.

She added, “We’ve been really, I think, successful in recruiting nurses to the area largely because of the committed work and advice of these working group members—particularly in the Canso area. And the municipality of Guysborough has provided incentives and foundations in the Guysborough area have been [a] key with physician recruitment.”