Amherst Doctors Rally Public Emergency Support
A large crowd, approaching 500 people, gathered on the lawn outside the Cumberland Regional Health Centre tonight, as local doctors called for public support in the growing health care crisis in local hospitals.
Led by Dr. Brian Ferguson, two other doctors, and both of the county’s MLA’s fired up the crowd to take on Premier Stephen McNeil who seems to be woefully out of touch with the serious challenge facing the regional hospital and the three community hospitals that have come to depend on it.
The three doctors, Ferguson, Murray McCrossin, and obstetrician Helen Sandland noted that a number of physicians have left the facility in recent months, putting emergency and specialty services in jeopardy. Those who remain are working extra hours just to keep the emergency department operating.
However, they warn, the reduced staff cannot keep up the pace and, without help from the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the provincial government, the regional hospital cannot sustain services.
The two members of the provincial legislature, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin of Cumberland North, and newly elected Tory Rushton of Cumberland South have echoed their concern, suggesting the province is not listening.
They called on local citizens to voice their concerns directly to the Premier, reminding him that Cumberland should not be overlooked or punished for electing opposition members to the legislature.
Ferguson says medical staff can no longer safeguard services at the Amherst hospital. In fact, the Evanston (Cape Breton) native served notice that if things don’t change quickly, he will resign from the staff and leave after more than thirty years of service.
He challenged people to mobilize in a concerted response, demanding action from the province. Like so many others, he blames the dissolution of local health authorities for the dramatic decline. Ferguson remembers a day when local physician recruitment filled the staff of the hospital to meet the needs of the community. Everything went downhill when the Liberal government usurped control and centralized all decision making in Halifax.
Amherst is not alone in this crisis. Regional hospitals across the province are facing similar challenges, while physician shortages are presenting challenges in the tertiary care institutions in Halifax.
While tonight’s demonstration was centred on the Amherst Hospital, the situation in rural settings is beyond crisis. The Nova Scotia Health Authority issues weekly alerts for emergency room closures. Hospitals in Pugwash, Springhill, and Parrsboro have faced more closures than their counterparts elsewhere in Nova Scotia. Emergency services at the Pugwash Hospital are closed more often than they are open.
Described each week as “temporary” by the NSHA, Pugwash regularly faces closure by the week, not by the day. The Pugwash emergency facility has been open for as little as four daytime hours a week over the last six months. Not only is that a crisis for Pugwash and area patients, but the failure of the NSHA to provide local service simply transfers the burden to the regional hospital.
The idea of centralized decision making through a single health authority for all of Nova Scotia is an abysmal failure. It may have made economic sense to a premier bent on balancing the books, but it has resulted in a rural health care crisis far greater and costly than any political credit for perceived fiscal management.