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Urgent care centre opening in Cape Breton to take pressure off ERs

·3 min read
Premier Tim Houston tours the new urgent care centre that will open Nov. 1 in the Northside General Hospital with doctors Joan Salah and Stephanie Langley.   (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Premier Tim Houston tours the new urgent care centre that will open Nov. 1 in the Northside General Hospital with doctors Joan Salah and Stephanie Langley. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

A new health-care centre for treatment of non-life-threatening problems is set to open next week in North Sydney and is expected to relieve some of the pressure created by a lack of family doctors and closed emergency departments at Cape Breton hospitals.

The Northside Urgent Treatment Centre is aimed at patients who need same-day or next-day treatment for issues like fractures, sprains, earaches and minor cuts. It will also offer some mental health support.

The centre will open Nov. 1 in the former emergency department at the Northside General Hospital.

'We've heard the pleas'

"We've heard the pleas of Nova Scotians who have said we need to be able to access care where we need it, when we need it," Premier Tim Houston said after touring the facility on Monday.

The idea for the centre came from staff at the Northside hospital, he said, but people across the province will likely benefit, where space and staffing make it possible.

"This is a very significant day, I'd say not only for health care in the region, but health care in Nova Scotia, in terms of access to health care, because this could turn out to be the model for across the province," Houston said.

The Northside emergency department closed more than 18 months ago at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new treatment centre will not provide emergency services, as it doesn't cover life-threatening situations and ambulances won't bring people to the facility.

People are asked to call 902-794-8966 first to make an appointment, or turn up and a nurse will book them an appointment that day or the next day. Those needing emergency care should still call 911 or go to an emergency room.

The centre will be staffed with two family doctors, three registered nurses and a licensed practical nurse and be open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Dr. Joan Salah, one of two eastern zone family medicine leads, said health-care staff are excited about the new centre.

"This one urgent care department is not going to be the solution to the problem of access and emergency department overcrowding for all of Cape Breton Island, but we think that it's a really good start," said Salah, who worked in the Northside ER before it closed.

"It's a big piece of the puzzle and we're hopeful that it's something that can be replicated elsewhere."

Houston did not have the cost of opening the new centre available for reporters on Monday, but he said it will not be significant.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

The former ER department and staff were already available.

The hospital is slated to be torn down and replaced with a new health centre, laundry facility and long-term care home, which is under construction in the Northside Business Park.

The province says the urgent care centre will move into the new health centre when it is ready.

Nova Scotia Health will host a public education session about the new centre at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Emera Centre Northside. People must contact Nova Scotia Health to register for that session.

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