As the MLA for Yarmouth, N.S., Health Minister Zach Churchill knows about the difficult decisions some people in that part of the province face as they pursue cancer treatment.
Churchill knows constituents who have struggled with the travel to Halifax for treatment and everything that goes into it in terms of the physical, mental and financial demands.
But there is another group of people the minister knows of for whom he has even more concern.
"The worst you hear is patients who don't receive perhaps life-saving treatment because of the travel and there's actually people who have made those decisions to not seek critical treatment options because of the travel cost and pressure that's associated with this," he said.
A funding announcement last week should help change that, said Churchill.
The annual budget for the oncology centre at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital will increase by about $1 million to expand services and hire more staff.
Dr. Helmut Hollenhorst, senior medical director of the provincial cancer care program, said the expanded services will include more help navigating various drug programs, better psychosocial care and improved access to hematology services. It will also include treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy — all closer to where people live.
"There's a lot of anxiety going along with [cancer treatment]," said Hollenhorst.
"There's uncertainty about what the future will bring, how the treatment will be tolerated and that often has to happen far away from home without those support systems in place, which is a big burden for patients who have cancer."
The funding will mean additional registered nurses, a nurse practitioner, a pharmacist and pharmacy assistant, social worker, psychology and support staff will all be hired.
In the last year, the site at Yarmouth Regional Hospital treated about 320 patients from Digby, Shelburne and Yarmouth counties. With these changes, Hollenhorst estimated capacity would increase to about 600.
Changes started with community effort
And while part of the aim is to increase services available closer to home, efforts are also being made to improve coordination between hospitals in Halifax and Yarmouth for those patients who still require trips to the city for certain treatments.
That means finding ways to group more appointments together in order to reduce the number of trips patients and loved ones need to make, said Hollenhorst.
What's particularly notable about the announcement, he said, is that it is derived from a community-led initiative several years ago to find a way to improve services locally.
Hollenhorst said that approach has led to an outcome that reflects community engagement and need, which will hopefully lead to better patient outcomes.
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