Nova Scotia Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey spoke at an event recently held at the Northern Health Connections Society on Overdose Awareness Day. He said the province is still looking at ways to end frequent closures at the collaborative emergency centre in Pugwash. Raissa Tetanish photo

If you live along the North Shore, you’re most likely aware of frequent closures to the collaborative emergency centre (CEC) in Pugwash.

Randy Delorey, the province’s minister of Health and Wellness, said steps are being taken to address those almost daily closures, but the village isn’t alone in the struggle.

“In any of our communities with emergency department services, closing that emergency department is a last resort,” said Delorey. “The health authority makes every effort possible to fill those shifts, and sometimes closures are necessary for not having resources in place at that time. Steps are being taken – it’s not just Pugwash seeing this.”

Delorey said closures are predominantly because of lack of physician availability, but that ongoing recruitment efforts are being done.

“We have tweaked our compensation frame to make filling these positions more attractive,” he said.

The locum program, which allows locums to choose where they work and what shifts they fill, has also been tweaked with better incentives. The province, said Delorey, is working with Doctors Nova Scotia on ways to make those rural shifts more attractive.

But is that really working for the Pugwash area?

“We’re always considering the input and feedback we’re receiving, including from Doctors Nova Scotia, but it does take time,” he said.

Late last year, the province announced a $1.1 million contract was awarded to Architecture49 to design a new hospital for the area. Delorey said they’re still waiting on the design of the facility, but things are still progressing.

He said a new hospital should make the Pugwash area one in which physicians will want to work.
“Those graduating now want to be working in a facility that’s of modern design, that supports their training,” said Delorey, noting the current North Cumberland Memorial Hospital is 50 years old. “Having a new facility does make it more attractive.”
The province, he said, also added 10 new residency seats in the province, of which six will be located in the Northern Zone. Two of those will be based out of the Amherst area, while two will be in Truro and surrounding areas, and the other two in Pictou County.

“We know that about 75 per cent of doctors that have trained through the residency program stayed and practiced in those communities,” said Delorey. “This is a practical, hands-on piece.”

The program will see residency students work with doctors in the area where needed. Delorey said Yarmouth, for example, had five residency students. While they were based out of the Yarmouth program, they served outlying communities, with one “as far away as Digby.”

The number of seats and compensation has also been increased in the nurse practitioner program as well, which is something Delorey said they received as feedback as being needed.

When it comes to the collaborative emergency centre model, it was originally created to help alleviate frequent closures. Overnight, the centres see teams of paramedics and registered nurses overseeing the care.

Over the past number of months, numerous CECs across the province have seen closures, not just Pugwash.

The centre in Tatamagouche was closed overnight in August and September, while registered nurses were trained to fill newly-vacant positions.

When asked if the CEC model is still working, Delorey said other ideas may come forward in the future that could replace it.

“The health authority continues to look for improvements,” he said. “We’re always looking at opportunities to improve, and I’m not aware of any models or proposals at this time to replace the CEC model. But that’s not to say in the future we won’t see something.”