Nova Scotians say rural ER closures are putting their health at risk

When Nova Scotia resident Jennifer Young was in labour earlier this summer, she asked her husband as he sped down the highway whether he had looked up instructions on how to deliver a baby.

That’s because Young’s local emergency room in Shelburne was temporarily closed, and the nearest open urgent care centre was more than 100 kilometres away in the Town of Bridgewater.

“When you have to ask your husband on the way to Bridgewater, speeding in a rainstorm, if he’s taken the time to YouTube how to deliver a baby, there’s something wrong with our health care system,” Young says.

It wasn’t the last time the Youngs have been frustrated by the ER closures. Their three-year-old son recently had seizures and needed emergency care, but their local emergency room was again closed when they needed it.

Young’s husband, Nolan Young, says rural residents’ health is at risk due to the distance they need to travel for health care. “Every Nova Scotian deserves to have the same equal access to help,” he says.

The Youngs’ story is just one of many being shared on the Facebook page Save our Rural Healthcare. The common theme is frustration at the provincial government’s decision to close some ERs at certain times of the day.

It’s not just Shelburne. On Monday, the Nova Scotia Health Authority announced the Glace Bay Hospital’s ER will be closed nightly from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. between Tuesday and Friday “due to the unavailability of physicians to cover the shifts.”

That’s on top of a closure at the Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital in Sheet Harbour, which shut its doors Friday and won’t reopen until Wednesday at 8 a.m., also “due to lack of physician coverage.”

There are also daily closures in Parrsboro, Pugwash and Springhill this week. In Tatamagouche, the ER will be closed overnight for all of August and September, according to the health authority.

Kevin Chapman, from the advocacy group Doctors Nova Scotia, says there just aren’t enough primary care resources from the province.

“A lot of the family physicians in Amherst have actually been closing their practices during the day in order to try to staff the emergency room,” Chapman said.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said no one was available Monday for an interview but sent a statement that said, in part, “There is ongoing planning to evolve toward a provincial emergency system of care that will include various levels of emergency departments with varying response capacities, connected through telemedicine and the high quality ground and air ambulance service.”

The health authority says anyone with urgent medical needs should call 9-1-1.

With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown