PUGWASH – David Farley woke up Monday morning feeling ill.
The 75-year-old member of the Pugwash Village Commission thought it was a chest infection.
He first called the North Cumberland Memorial Hospital to make sure its emergency department was open before heading in.
“They advised me it would be reopened on Wednesday,” said Farley.
“They said to call the hospitals in Springhill and Tatamagouche to see if their emergency rooms were open and failing that, Amherst.”
The emergency departments in the rural hospitals in Springhill, Parrsboro and Pugwash were closed much of last week during daytime hours because there weren’t any doctors available.
According to notices on the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s website, Pugwash’s emergency department are closed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning and Friday. The emergency department in Springhill will be open on Tuesday and Friday.
When those emergency departments are closed, people head to the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre outside Amherst.
And that hospital’s emergency department wasn’t designed to be large enough to serve all of Cumberland County.
“We built our emergency room too small — it can’t be a regional hospital for 34,000 people and only have 11 beds (in the emergency room),” Dr. Brian Ferguson, who has worked as a doctor in Amherst for 31 years, told the Chronicle Herald recently.
“I sat on the committee that designed that emergency room and at the time lobbied for some of the smaller emergency rooms to be closed so that we could have a larger one. I was told that would be political suicide.”
The smaller hospitals are defined as Collaborative Emergency Centres. So while doctors weren’t available during daytime hours, a registered nurse was.
During the night they were open with a registered nurse and a paramedic present who had access to a doctor from elsewhere in the province.
“Recruitment for emergency department physicians and for family physicians who can work in emergency departments is ongoing,” said authority spokeswoman Kristen Lipscombe in a written response.
“We know that when community hospital emergency departments are temporarily closed it puts pressure on the regional emergency department. Our emergency department team works very hard to provide care and we know it can be frustrating for everyone – physicians, nursing staff and patients – when patient volumes are high and emergency department is busy. Our people are doing the best they can to assess, treat and discharge patients who don’t need admission and to keep patient flow going in emergency department.”
Two weeks ago Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin held a community meeting in Pugwash that was attended by representatives from the health authority.
“The community has a lot of concerns,” said Smith-McCrossin.
“My recommendation would be immediately that they add enough funding to put another physician at the regional hospital even if for four to six hours a day during they are busy. When the rural hospitals are closed it does put too much pressure on the regional hospital.”
For his part, Farley said he will wait until Tuesday, when he was able to get an appointment with a nurse practitioner to see about his suspected chest infection at the clinic.
“So I was lucky,” said Farley.