Canso residents rallied across the street from the Eastern Memorial Hospital when it closed its emergency room doors on Sunday night.
They learned through a news release last week that a nursing shortage would result in their emergency room being closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and that their six in-patient beds would be shut for the forseeable future.
May 9/19: Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso is changing its emergency department hours. Starting May 12, the department will be open daily from 7 am to 7 pm and closed overnight. The overnight closure is due to a lack of nursing coverage. Learn more at https://t.co/qdApl5yuw7— NSHA Eastern (@NSHAeastern) May 9, 2019
The news release noted that during the past year 90 per cent of emergency room visits were during daytime hours at the Eastern Memorial Hospital.
“These changes are based on ensuring that we can provide stable daytime care, while we look at a more sustainable plan to provide service to the area,” said Brett MacDougall, executive director of operations in NSHA’s eastern zone.
The NSHA also promised to hold a public information session in Canso that as of 5 p.m. Monday hadn’t yet been scheduled.
“Where’s the long-term planning?” said Susan O’Handley, one of the organizers of the rally that drew 200 people.
“As a community we’re just flabbergasted that it has come to this critical stage. If we’d have known, we’d have organized. We could have found ways to help – we always do.”
The Nova Scotia Health Authority did not provide details on what had precipitated the nursing shortage or whether it saw it coming.
Last Friday the Municipality of the District of Guysborough held an emergency council meeting over the news.
Beyond moving to write letters to the premier, Health Minister Randy Delorey and the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority expressing their concern, they also put money on the table.
The municipality is offering $10,000 per person in incentive recruitments for permanent nurses and doctors at hospitals in Guysborough and Canso. As well, it will foot the bill for two councilors to take a delegation of local residents to meet with senior officials at the Nova Scotia Health Authority in Halifax to express their concerns.
They are also writing the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, seeking that it join them in lobbying the federal government to create an income tax deduction for medical professionals working in municipalities with a population of 5,000 or fewer.
“We have to try something, we can’t quit trying,” said Warden Vernon Pitts of the moves.
Canso is 48 kilometres from the Guysborough Regional Hospital, which provides a similar level of service.
However, O’Handley warned that's a long drive particularly in winter whiteout season.
The longtime community organizer is to set up a community meeting in Canso so people can put their heads together and come up with ways local residents can help – whether it be by providing housing for temporary nurses who may come in to the community or by fundraising for the hospital foundation.
“Everytime we find ourselves in a situation where something drastic is going to happen we always rally as a community and we find solutions,” said O’Handley.
“I don’t think this will be any different. We just need government to be on our side.”