SHEET HARBOUR – As Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital’s emergency department enters its second month of shutdown, the provincial government is expected to announce a short-term solution as early as next week, and longer-term plans for the facility soon after that, The Journal has learned.
“Measures are being taken swiftly involving the model of care,” Kent Smith, MLA for Eastern Shore, told the newspaper in an email last week. “It won’t solve all our problems immediately, but it will improve access to urgent care when compared to the current situation.”
Moreover, he said, “There’s a very good chance for an approval to the Sheet Harbour and Area Chamber of Commerce and Civic Affairs’ application through the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment (OHPR) Community Fund, as well as a chance for a foreign-trained doctor to be recruited via the Practise Ready Assessment Program [PRAP].”
Chamber of Commerce President Janice Christie confirmed in a text message that she’s expecting an announcement from the provincial government as soon as Feb. 13 and that “plans have been discussed and options for resolving the problem are underway.”
According to Greg Cross, chair of the Chamber’s advisory committee on the issue, funding has been applied for from the OHPR — which recruits healthcare professionals to the province — and that doctor candidates have been lined up under the PRAP — which qualifies foreign-educated medical graduates to practice in the province.
“Nova Scotia Health [NSH], a local physician and a local Community Heath Board member have interviewed 17 [individuals] and conducted a virtual tour of [ESMH] for 11 of them,” he conveyed in the text from Christie. “We hope that we can attract a candidate for the program who, after their initial indoctrination, will be employed at ESMH for a three-year ‘return of service’ term. Ideally, we would hope that they stay with our community afterwards … We are anticipating an announcement regarding the success of our application any day.”
If so, it wouldn’t come a moment too soon for the benighted hospital’s ER, which has been closed as much as 70 per cent of the time over the past two years, and shut tight since Dec. 28, due to doctor shortages. In an email to The Journal last week, NSH spokesperson John Gillis said, “Unfortunately, we’re unable to secure physician coverage to enable the emergency department to operate this month.”
At a community meeting in Sheet Harbour last month, Smith outlined the problem in stark, but clear, terms. “Every facility in the province has a designation,” he explained. “If you’re a big hospital, you’re a level one emergency department. And as [the hospital] gets a little bit smaller, the levels [go down] to level two, level three, level four. And then there are other facilities that are collaborative emergency centers, or CCCs. Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital … is classified as a level four emergency department, [where] a doctor gets paid $77.18 per hour. An [ER] doctor at level three facility makes $154.31 per hour.”
He added: “It’s maddening … Why can’t we change the funding model? We change the funding model, we change the classification of the facility, and that [also] gives us more flexibility on who we can be primary care provider.”
In the long term, ESMH may join nearby Twin Oaks Memorial Hospital, and Musquodoboit Valley Hospital in a new “hub and spoke” model of healthcare delivery, said NHS officials at the meeting.
“This approach [would mean] that we’re not splitting our resources, but focussing on the things that we can do really well together,” noted Roberta Duchesne, NSH Director of Community and Rural Sites.
Added ESMH’s Health Services Manager Amy Donnelly: “We’re trying to make it so that each [hospital] works in conjunction with the others. [It’s about] coordinating our schedules together so that the community has at least one of the hospitals.”
In his email to The Journal last week, Smith said, “Let’s focus on the potential positives rather than highlighting the negative. The reality is that for the last two-plus years the emergency department [at ESMH] wasn’t a reliable facility and we are working every single day to make it one.”