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Patients in Strait region sick over loss of surgeon

Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray resigned as a general surgeon at St. Martha's Regional Hospital late last year. File
Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray resigned as a general surgeon at St. Martha's Regional Hospital late last year. File - Corey LeBlanc

Calls for provincial health minister to step in

[Editor's note: The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) issued a press release Friday afternoon (Jan. 11) regarding Dr. MacGillivray's situation, parts of which have been included in this revised online story.]

The loss of a general surgeon that has served the Strait region for more than a decade has sickened many patients and community leaders.    

Late last year, Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray sent a letter to patients informing them that she would no longer be able to perform scheduled procedures.    

“Over the last few years, I have been attempting to slightly modify my surgical practice to make it more sustainable,” the Antigonish native wrote.    

“None of the many potential solutions I have offered have been acceptable to administration and, therefore, I regretfully resigned from my position as a general surgeon at St. Martha’s [Regional] Hospital.”    

She added, as a result of her decision, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) informed her that she could no longer provide services at Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital (ICMH).  

“Twelve years ago, I chose to move back to my hometown to raise my family precisely for these ‘intangibles’ of being surrounded by family and the rich benefits of living in this community and province,” MacGillivray said in a press release issued Jan. 8 by Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster.    

“There are other areas of the country where surgeons can earn higher pay but I wanted to live here.”    

An NSHA press release issued Jan. 11 said, "for clarity and context," it was important to share, once again, a surgical service overview.

That outline explained, generally, there are three full-time general surgeons on the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital team, who provide general surgery, including "sharing on-call responsibilities to support continuity of care and work-life balance for the team." They may also provide surgical services at other hospitals in the Eastern Zone, including ICMH.

They added MacGillivray had worked a limited surgical schedule for more than a year, providing some endoscopy services at ICMH.

The NSHA noted, when a physician resigns, they give up all hospital privileges.

MacGillivray reiterated she has been voicing the need for a better work-life balance to provincial health officials for quite some time, suggesting ways in which to improve the situation for her and her two colleagues at St. Martha’s.    

Increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress, she took a leave of absence last spring from the Antigonish-based hospital, although she continued to conduct procedures at IMCH.    

She also persisted with her call for change, which included a late October meeting with Nova Scotia Health Minister and Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey to discuss the situation.   

MacGillivray resigned from St. Martha’s Nov. 30.    

"There were numerous discussions between physician leaders and the surgeon around work-life balance and their role and options within the surgical service. It would not be appropriate to discuss or debate specific details about those private conversations," the NSHA release said.  

Patient Alison Mustard described losing MacGillivray as “a terrible blow to me.”    

“She was also willing to travel to Inverness, which is a wonderful service that I am certain saved lives. Inverness has little to no public transportation; some residents do not have the ability to travel hundreds of kilometres for medical consultations, or to have a simple procedure performed,” she said.    

“She was willing to come here to help us.  To me, she was a true hero and is greatly missed.”    

Through myriad avenues, including social media, calls to elected officials and letters to Delorey, patients – and supporters – continue to come to bat for MacGillivray.    

“I firmly believe that these specialists need to be treated with the same compassion and respect that they show to their patients,” Yvonne MacIsaac of Antigonish, another patient, said.    

In her letter to the provincial health minister, Dawn Currie of Upper South River, Antigonish County, placed blame at the feet of Delorey and NSHA officials.    

“This situation is happening at a time when the need for good healthcare is at an all-time high,” she wrote.    

“Dr. MacGillivray is known as a caring, compassionate, respectful and devoted physician. I have first-hand knowledge of this.    

“Please know that this is rapidly becoming a political issue, if it is not already and any action taken or not taken by you will be important to the welfare of those constituents you represent,” Currie added.    

Gertrude Sanderson of Lanark, Antigonish County, in her correspondence to Delorey, wrote about the “scandalous treatment” of MacGillivray.    

MacMaster said the NSHA “did not put the needs of patients first,” adding “we need people like Dr. MacGillivray.”    

“People are tired of a faceless health authority making bad decisions that are impacting people’s quality of life.     

“At the end of the day it is health minister Randy Delorey who is in charge, and it is he who must fix what his health authority has broken,” he added.

The NSHA said MacGillivray’s former patients, who have less urgent issues, are being directed to their family physician for referral to another surgeon. Urgent or emergency cases are being referred directly to other surgeons for follow-up.

They noted they are "actively recruiting" for a full-time surgeon based at St. Martha’s, who will also have the opportunity to use surgical service time at ICMH.

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