By Lawrence Powell
More than 600 people from the western end of Annapolis County turned out Thursday for a 'Community Conversation' regarding the future of the Annapolis Community Health Centre in Annapolis Royal, and the consensus was a 24/7 emergency room and local service for local people.
To many, the first of three scheduled meetings came out of the blue, causing some in the community to speculate that Annapolis Valley Health is working on an agenda to close the emergency room.
Residents made it clear that was not an option, pressing home the point time after time despite the fact that AVH chair David Logie had already promised the ER would not close. He even promised it in writing to the large crowd that had filled the Annapolis West Education Centre gym. However the crowd was not in a believing mood and asked to hear from a local doctor on the issue who put more focus on the meeting by talking about the plight of the ACHC ER and the Digby ER – complete with an Annapolis Royal request to Digby to work together.
In the end, Logie addressed the ER issue which boils down to the possibility of just one emergency room – either in Annapolis Royal or Digby, the latter community not being a likely option based on its record according to the AVH chair.
Those attending the meeting also discovered that the province has secured the services of Dr. Jonathan Ross to travel the province to assess emergency rooms. One resident noted that he had been unable to find out Ross’s mandate and what criteria he was following. He said he was told to ask for the information via a freedom of information request. AVH president and CEO Janet Knox later admitted AVH did not know either. One woman pointed out that one of the Dexter government’s campaign promises was to keep all ERs open.
The meeting format had Logie and Knox speaking first, followed by about 50 break-out sessions where groups of 10 or 12 residents would discuss three questions asked by the health authority and then report their findings in presentations to the entire audience.
Although the crowd followed the process, many voiced their distaste for the format. They said they would rather have AVH answer the public's questions and have the health authority define terms and criteria than answer questions on current successes and failures and future desires for health care.
Although reluctant, those attending formed groups and reported back to the podium with about 50 groups making more than 30 presentations. One woman walked out at that point.
The questions they were asked to answer were:
1) How do you get your health care now?
2) What works well? What doesn't work well?
3) How do you want to receive health care in the future?
Answers lauded the ACHC’s services, doctors, nurse practitioner, and other staff, called for 24/7 emergency room service rather than the five days a week currently, and most wanted all service to be local with the possible exception of specialist doctors. Several groups even wanted a return to a full-service hospital. In many responses, residents admitted to using the emergency department when they couldn’t secure a timely appointment with a doctor – and the issue of a doctor shortage became a topic of conversation. The bottom line in that regard is that one new doctor is on the way and two more are likely within the year.
However, it was pointed out that the uncertainty surround the future of the ER was not conducive to securing new doctors. Furthermore, closure of the ER would most certainly result in the eventual closure of the centre itself.
While the answers were not unexpected, some voiced concerns that the very answers they were providing were enough ammunition for AVH to say their expectations were unreasonable and not possible and AVH would consequently shut the ER down – having already held public consultations. "WHY WERE WE HERE?"
Annapolis Royal Mayor Phil Roberts ended the public presentations from groups by asking: "Why are we here?" He said the evening was not a valuable exercise and asked that the next meeting be in town hall format. Logie, however, said that meeting would follow the same format as Thursday evening's meeting.
Wendy Knowlton, chair of the Annapolis Community Health Board, told the meeting her group would be working with AVH and would be at the AVH table with residents’ concerns.
Also at the meeting was Annapolis MLA Stephen McNeil, West Nova MP Greg Kerr, and former Annapolis Royal Mayor John Kinsella. Kerr vacated his position on the health authority when he became MP and Kinsella was nominated months ago to fill the vacancy. As of last Thursday’s meeting, Kinsella had not been officially appointed. Some suggested that gave Annapolis County a weaker voice on the AVH board.
Two other meetings were slated for earlier this week, both on February 16, at the Clementsport Legion the Annapolis Royal Fire Hall.
By Sunday a blog and Facebook group had been launched by local citizens, and the Facebook group had 170 members before the end of Monday. A group of residents met Sunday evening for a ‘strategy session’ in preparation for the Tuesday meeting at the fire hall. “This is not the time to sit back and wait to see what happens, as one of my colleagues at the health centre suggested,” said one blog responder. “If we do…by the time we find out what is happening, it will be too late to do anything about it. It is time for action.”
Another blogger described last Thursday evening’s exercise as a copout by AVH. “I got the impression their hands are tied to some extent,” she said. “Common sense tells me they have been told they will have fewer $$$ to spend, necessitating making changes in the way health care is provided – all the while telling the public they are attempting to provide it more ‘efficiently.’”
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Residents slam health authority meeting tactics
ER for Annapolis Royal or for Digby?
By Lawrence Powell
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