AMHERST, N.S. – Patients of one of Amherst’s largest medical practice may have to begin looking for a new doctor.
Dr. Brian Ferguson vented his frustration in a Facebook post at the lack of progress in securing help for beleaguered staff at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, saying it may be time for him to leave Amherst after more than 30 years.
“The people of Cumberland County really need to step up and take up arms for their hospital. They’re not second-class citizens. They need to fight for what’s theirs,” Ferguson told the Amherst News, confirming that his departure is a realistic option. “Back in the 90s when the situation was bad the people took up the cause and got the government’s attention so that changes were made and we got our regional status. I’m surprised there have been any rallied organized yet and it makes me wonder if anyone’s willing to do that.”
Ferguson’s private practice has more than 3,000 patients.
He said he doesn’t expect Amherst Mayor David Kogon or Cumberland County Warden Allison Gillis to lead the charge, but expects councillors and residents to lead the charge. Ferguson said the fact is he’s a doctor and government is not listening to doctors. It will listen to the people who vote for them and can remove them from office.
“It just seems as though the fight is gone,” he said. “People need to realize if we lose our Level 2 status it’s gone for good. It’s not coming back.”
In late July, the popular Amherst physician said the regional hospital is on life support because of a lack of physicians able to cover shifts in the emergency room and a declining number of specialists needed to help maintain the hospital’s regional status.
Ferguson said there are so few doctors working the ER that it’s difficult to maintain 24-hour coverage – a must for a regional hospital. There is also a shortage of specialist backup and nursing staff.
In his original post, Ferguson pointed his finger directly at Premier Stephen McNeil and his Liberal government for placing more emphasis on balancing the budget than on people’s lives. He said the people of Cumberland County and services at the hospital are suffering either from deliberate action or neglect.
On Thursday, he said he feels let down that neither Amherst nor the Municipality of Cumberland have said much about the issue. Instead, he said, they created a task force he feels has done little to alleviate the crisis at the hospital.
“Despite my original Facebook post about our local hospital/health crisis I have not heard from local officials, with the exception of our local MLAs, despite reaching numbers of greater than 115,000 concerned citizens in our province,” the doctor said, adding he’s stunned by the town and the county’s silence.
He said the Liberal government has aimed to balance the provincial budget, but in doing so is allowing the health-care system to die by attrition and he questions if the municipalities have decided the loss of regional status for the hospital is “an acceptable loss.”
Ferguson said he will continue to serve the needs of the hospital while devoting the rest of his time to his private practice – as long as his health permits.
“This is obviously not sustainable, but health permitting I will continue until my departure,” Ferguson said.
Mayor Kogon said neither he nor council have been silent on the issue.
Both he and Deputy Mayor Sheila Christie are members of the Cumberland Health Care Task Force, which recently issued a petition calling on the province and the Nova Scotia Health Authority to do more to retain and recruit physicians to the county and to include local doctors when attending job fairs so physicians can be recruited locally.
When the petition was issued, the mayor said the town supports it because the steps the task force is asking to be done would enhance the ability to maintain specialists and recruit them to the regional hospital. He also said an active, dynamic regional hospital complete with a full complement of specialists is needed to help the town remain vibrant and able to attract businesses.
“I believe that I am and the Amherst town council is just as concerned about the future of the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, as is Dr. Ferguson,” Kogon said. “I believe our support of the task force, our support of the petition, my personal efforts to attract new physicians and the town’s $10,000 commitment to recruiting efforts are examples of just how committed we are to ensuring our hospital remains a regional health care centre for years to come.”