AMHERST, N.S – On Thursday, Dr. Brian Ferguson challenged Cumberland County residents to speak up for their health-care. A day later the community responded.
Bonnie McNeil, a retired nurse with more than 40 years experience, is helping to organize a rally at the All Saints Collaborate Emergency Centre in Springhill early Monday while planning for another rally at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre is in its early stages.
The rally is at 9 a.m. in front of the CEC’s often-closed ER.
“We have to do something now, this can’t wait any longer,” McNeil told the Amherst News. “I’ve been a nurse for 43 years and I’ve never seen health care as bad as it is now.”
McNeil, who now works as a casual nurse at Springhill’s Highcrest Nursing Home, said the situation at All Saints is like that at many rural hospitals with frequent closures of emergency departments and an ongoing shortage of doctors and nurses.
“We can’t continue down this path,” she said. “It’s critical, but it just doesn’t appear as though anyone in Halifax is listening. We need to change that.”
When the ER is open in Springhill, moving a patient from Highcrest to All Saints is as simple as going across the parking lot. With numerous closures of the emergency department over several years, an ambulance has to take the patient to the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre 27 kilometres away in Amherst.
“It’s not working. It’s placing stress on the patient, their families and the paramedics,” she said. “We need to send a message to the province that we’re not going to sit back and take it any longer and we’re tired of empty promises.”
She said provincial government and the Nova Scotia Health Authority continue to say there’s a plan for health care, but to her it appears the only plan is continued ER closures. She’s concerned how long it will take before the province pulls the plug on one or more rural ER in Cumberland County.
“If Amherst loses its status as a regional hospital and a few more specialists or doctors leave we’re going to have a huge problem,” she said. “I know they’re getting fed up and they’re going to leave.”
McNeil said she has the utmost respect for Ferguson and when his first call to action went unheeded she felt something needed to be doing about his second before Amherst and the county loses one of its most experienced physicians.
“He’s not bluffing,” she said. “Brian is very determined and has been working extra hard even though he has had some health issues of his own. He can only do that for so long.”
Ferguson, who has approximately 3,000 patients in his medical practice, said Thursday that he’s had enough and via Facebook said it may be time for him to leave Amherst after more than 30 years.
A month ago, Ferguson said the regional hospital is on life support because of a lack of physicians to cover ER shifts while there’s a shortage of specialist backup and nursing staff.
Another rally is being planned for outside the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre on Wednesday at 6 p.m.