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SYDNEY, N.S. — Health Minister Randy Delorey says the concerns that have been relayed by doctors to him about conditions at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital emergency department are reflected in plans for the redevelopment of health care in the region.
Delorey was responding to questions about the conditions at the hospital’s ER Thursday during a post-cabinet scrum and conference call with reporters.
The current state of the department has been generating headlines, particularly since a social media posting by Dr. Meghan Keating which described conditions there on Jan. 6 as, “nothing short of a crisis.” Keating recently stepped down as network lead in family practice.
Delorey said he wasn’t aware of Keating’s post. The Cape Breton Post had earlier Thursday morning indicated to premier’s office staff that the newspaper intended to ask about it and was then contacted by a Health Department communications adviser seeking more information, and a link to a story in Thursday’s edition was emailed. Delorey did note that he was in Cape Breton in December.
“I went to all four hospitals, had essentially an open invitation to meet with physicians at those hospitals, I’ve had detailed discussions with them about the redevelopment project but also the opportunity to share more information and concerns,” Delorey said.
The redevelopment project is intended to rearrange resources within the region to try to ensure that the care is getting to the people of Cape Breton when and where they need it, he added.
Delorey said he doesn’t recall the specific concerns notes by Keating — including performing patient assessments in washrooms and not enough cardiac monitors — being raised during those meetings.
He said the expectation of the Nova Scotia Health Authority is that it will work with staff, including physicians, to hear their concerns and respond accordingly.
Delorey was then asked about Keating’s assertion that during the December visit he was invited to do a walk-through of the CBRH emergency department but declined.
“I toured the emergency department at the Cape Breton Regional previously,” Delorey said. “The circumstances around that invitation, I was actively involved in a meeting with I believe over 30 physicians at the regional hospital. As I indicated at that time, I had previously toured the hospital’s emergency department.”
He added what he was told by the doctors is that the ER is insufficient — not just in size but in flow.
“It’s not modern for the needs of how heath care is delivered in emergency settings and they said that incremental improvements were not going to be sufficient, that it needed to be a complete overhaul of that emergency department.”
That is what intended through the redevelopment, he said, which includes a doubling in size of the emergency department at CBRH and Glace Bay Hospital, and the closure of ERs in North Sydney and New Waterford. The ER closures — the hospitals are to be replaced by community health centres — have sparked particularly vocal protests in the communities.
A two-week closure of the Glace Bay ER has been announced due to the unavailability of physicians to cover the shifts, due to end Jan. 25.
Delorey wouldn’t comment specifically on Keating stepping down as network lead.
“I certainly can’t get into the details of individual physicians and their decisions around when they take a particular role, I wouldn’t be able to speak to that on any particular employee either. But the NSHA is obviously going to be recruiting to fill that administrative role,” he said.
There are other short-term measures to try to alleviate the shortage of doctors, including changes around emergency shift premiums and the locum coverage payments, province-wide. A longer-term strategy includes adding seats to the residency program, Delorey said.