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Amherst physicians throw down the gauntlet

Dr. Brian Ferguson addresses a large crowd at a health care rally in front of the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre on Wednesday evening. A crowed, estimated at more than 500, listened to doctors talk about the need for more support for the county’s lone regional hospital that is struggling with a shortage of physicians and declining programs and services.
Dr. Brian Ferguson addresses a large crowd at a health care rally in front of the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre on Wednesday evening. A crowed, estimated at more than 500, listened to doctors talk about the need for more support for the county’s lone regional hospital that is struggling with a shortage of physicians and declining programs and services. - Darrell Cole

Asking province to help with recruitment to maintain hospital’s regional status

If the message wasn’t so serious you’d almost think there was a rock concert in front of the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre on Wednesday evening.

Members of the medical staff at the regional hospital joined with Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and her counterpart Cumberland South Tory Rushton to impress upon government the need to support the beleaguered hospital.

“We need you, we need you to stand with us and to have your voices heard,” the Cumberland North MLA said. “We have to send a message to the premier that we live in a democracy and let’s make sure we use it.”

Dr. Murray McCrossin and Dr. Brian Ferguson were joined by obstetrician Dr. Helen Sandland in urging the provincial government to give the regional hospital the support it needs to maintain its regional status.

The hospital has seen several doctors and specialists leave in recent months and those that remain are working extra shifts to maintain the emergency department around the clock and to offer specialty services a regional facility must have.

The rally follows a similar event in front of the All Saints Collaborative Emergency Centre in Springhill on Monday while a third rally is being planned for North Cumberland Memorial CEC on Monday, Aug. 27. Those two hospitals, and the South Colchester CEC in Parrsboro, have seen numerous ER closures, placing additional strain on the regional hospital in Amherst.

Rushton said the Liberal government needs to know how important health care is in Cumberland County.

“The premier needs to know that while we’re on the New Brunswick side of the Cobequid Pass, we’re also on the Nova Scotia side of the New Brunswick border,” Rushton said. “This isn’t about politics, it’s about doing the right thing for the people of Cumberland County.

“Several weeks ago there was a story on the news about and ER closure in Nova Scotia. Here in Cumberland County that’s not breaking news, it’s something we have to deal with every day.”

Ferguson said doctors and other health professionals have been defending the deterioration of the hospital, now it’s time for the public to join the fray.

“We need you to get away from your computers and get out and start meeting, talking and representing yourselves,” said Ferguson, who announced last week that unless the situation improves he will be leaving Amherst after more than 30 years.

Ferguson said the provincial Liberals came into power in 2013 and immediately wiped out all the gains made by rural hospitals by centralizing administration in Halifax with disastrous results in places like Amherst and the rest of Cumberland County.       

Dr. Sandland said doctors like her are getting tired.

“I just finished 21 days straight of being on call and that’s the norm because we’re short-staffed,” she said. “We're trying to recruit people to come to Cumberland County, and I love it here, but it’s hard to recruit people when they’re going to have to come here and work these types of hours. But we need the people to provide the care.”

While he didn't speak at the rally, Amherst Mayor Dr. David Kogon issued a statement on behalf of his council supporting the doctors.

“We pointed out to the minister that there are times during the year when sending a patient to either Truro or Moncton isn’t an option because of the weather, that the citizens of Amherst and Cumberland County deserve high-quality health-care services that are equal to those received by citizens in other parts of the province,” Kogon said in his statement, referring to a recent meeting with Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey. “We further pointed that failing to keep the Cumberland Health Care Centre a Level 2 regional facility would create financial hardships for many of our citizens, particularly those living in poverty, who would face financial hardship by being forced to travel greater distances for routine medical procedures.

The minister concurred. To me that is reassuring.”

Kogon said in supporting the physicians, he believes municipal units have a role to play in helping with recruiting new doctors and his town has funded the area health task force with $10,000.

“As I’ve said, health care is a provincial responsibility, but this doesn’t mean we should shrug our shoulders and see how it turns out,” Kogon said, adding he wants the minister to respond immediately and directly to the concerns raised at this week’s two rallies. “The members of council and I will always do whatever we can to ensure this stays on the front page until adequate, sustainable health care is available to the citizens of the Town of Amherst and Cumberland County.”

darrell.cole@amherstnews.ca

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

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