GUYSBOROUGH – After what has been a difficult spring and summer at Guysborough Memorial Hospital (GMH), news this fall indicates service hours will stabilize in the coming year.
The closed sign has become a familiar site at the GMH emergency department. If residents think the situation has been worse than ever before, they are not wrong.
From April to September in 2020, it logged 397 unscheduled hours of closure, all during the summer months of July through September, when it is difficult to find locums – fill-in doctors from outside the area – to cover shifts.
This year, over the same period (April to September), there were 636.5 hours of unscheduled closures, an increase of 60 per cent.
Nova Scotia Health (NSH) told The Journal in an email, “The emergency department closures at Guysborough Memorial Hospital are currently all related to physician coverage. While we continue to seek locum coverage and are actively recruiting physicians, it remains a challenge to recruit to rural areas of Nova Scotia.”
And it’s not just in the emergency department where healthcare staffing is floundering. Guysborough County Home Support issued an ad on Facebook and in this newspaper last week for casual workers in the Guysborough and Canso areas.
Several sources with knowledge of the situation, who wish to remain anonymous, told The Journal that the Milford Haven Home for Special Care in Guysborough has four to five beds closed due to staffing shortages.
GEM Health Care Group, which owns and manages the facility, has not responded to The Journal’s emails inquiring about staffing shortages, but the company does have seven job postings for Milford Haven Home for Special Care linked to its website this week.
When asked about the effect of bed closures at their sister facility – Milford Haven Home for Special Care, which is in the same building as Guysborough Memorial Hospital – NSH emailed the following comment attributed to the site lead at GMH: “Nova Scotia Health does have people awaiting placement in long-term care across the province, including at Guysborough Memorial Hospital. We recently hired continuing care assistants following a review that recommended this additional level of care at the hospital – this is not related to those awaiting placement in long-term care. We can’t comment on staffing at Milford Haven.”
Despite this concerning snapshot of health care in the Guysborough area, hope is on the horizon.
At the annual general meeting of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital Foundation on Oct. 26, reports from Facility Manager Leona Purcell and Foundation Chair Bill Innis focused on the outstanding staff GMH has and staff, both doctors and nurses, waiting in the wings.
Purcell told meeting attendees that three nurses would soon be coming to GMH. She also said that the hospital would be working towards “retaining our own” this week, when NSH and GMH representatives met with StFX students who would be graduating from the nursing program this year.
Innis reported that three doctors – one from the U.S and two from the U.K. – are working through the immigration and accreditation process required to live and work in Nova Scotia.
In addition to these potential hires, one physician may be in the pipeline through the Practice Ready Assessment Program.
Innis said of staffing and emergency department closures, “[We] cannot allow this to be the new normal.”
While Innis is hopeful, he remains cautiously optimistic.
Taking the long view, Innis was happy to report that this coming weekend, 10 first and second-year Dalhousie medical students who have expressed an interest in family practice, including Mackenzie Cook of the area, will spend time in Guysborough and at GMH. Billeted in local homes, the students will take part in skills labs with recently-retired local physician Dr. Barbara Bell.
Warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal on Oct. 20 that the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) had “a short meeting today with the Department of Health, Dr. Hillyard and a few individuals, and things aren’t as much doom and gloom as most people are thinking. We have some prospects that are basically hooked. We just have to land them on the shore … I think we’ve reached the top of the hill and I think now we’re going to have a bit easier sledding going forward in the next month or so.”
Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal