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New clinic in Canso a stopgap in healthcare crisis

  • November 8 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

CANSO — A one-day mobile clinic in Canso on Nov. 4 may have arrived in the nick of time for short-staffed Eastern Memorial Hospital (EMH) and short-tempered area residents at a time of rising COVID-19 cases.

But Susan O’Handley of the Canso & Area Healthcare Working Group cautions anyone – including local providers, patients and members of her organization labouring to improve hospital resources in eastern Guysborough – from thinking it was a sign of better care to come.

“This was not the first clinic like this here; more like the third,” she told The Journal in an email.

“Any time we have a break in service, because we don’t have a physician or we don’t have any ER coverage for any extended period, they try to bring in the mobile health clinics. That just gives people who have a certain sickness or issue [the opportunity] to call in and make appointments... I know there’s a run of COVID here happening again.”

She added: “We appreciate that this [mobile clinic] is coming to our community to try to help alleviate some of the pressure... It at least helps, but it certainly isn’t what we [ultimately] need... What we want are doctors here full time.”

In a public service notice late in the afternoon on Nov. 3, Nova Scotia Health (NSH) announced that its “mobile primary care clinic” at EMH on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. was “a temporary service to provide an appropriate primary care setting for an increased number of people with mild or moderate health concerns.”

In a statement emailed to The Journal, NSH spokesperson Jennifer Lewandowski added, “We have been able to offer four mobile primary health care clinics in the Canso community over the past several months. The mobile clinics have been stood up in response to primary health care needs while the community primary health care clinic continues to experience gaps in services. The local community pharmacist and acute care staff have partnered with primary health care providers from across the Eastern zone to offer these interim mobile clinics to provide access to care as we continue to recruit and stabilize primary health care services. In the past two weekends the mobile clinics have provided 31 primary health care appointments to community members in need of care.

It its public notice about Saturday’s clinic, NSH noted that “these are not drop-in clinics” but by appointment, only; that “this clinic is not a substitute for your primary care provider” (doctor or nurse practitioner); and that it “can only address non-urgent, low-acuity health issues and is not an emergency service.”

At the same time, it allowed, “There are times when you may not be able to see your primary care provider, or you do not have a primary care provider... Care will be provided using a team approach, which includes nurse practitioners and family physicians...Your patience is greatly appreciated as we aim to provide you the best possible care.”

Among the services the clinic did provide were: prescription refills or renewals (except for controlled substances); minor respiratory symptoms; sore throat; earaches; fever; headache; rashes; minor gastrointestinal concerns (vomiting and diarrhea); cough, flu, or cold symptoms; urinary tract infections; and muscle pain.”

O’Handley explained that over the past two years her group of community stakeholders has worked with EMH and NSH to increase the hospital’s nursing staff, recruiting one from British Columbia and two from Ontario. Nevertheless, the hospital doesn’t have enough doctors to keep its doors open consistently or reliably. “It’s very competitive,” she said. “We keep trying and we are doing everything that we possibly can to get doctors to come.”

At the Municipality of the District of Guysborough committee of the whole meeting Nov. 1, Deputy Warden Janet Peitzsche (Little Dover, Hazel Hill, Tickle, Fox Island) motioned to send a letter to provincial Minister of Health Michelle Thompson demanding better health care for the municipality, implying that the situation is now dire.

“Our hospital coverage in our area is absolutely unacceptable,” she said. Noting the shortage of nurses and doctors, she added: “There are times our hospitals are closed in Guysborough, in Canso. It’s getting very, very dangerous.”

The motion carried unanimously.