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Remedy sought for emergency centre closures, doctor shortage in Annapolis Royal

Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald explains the regional partnership’s bid to vie for funding to study construction of a sea gate that could be closed to prevent storm surges and rising sea levels from devastating the many communities along the Annapolis Basin. Annapolis Royal, Digby, Annapolis County, and the District of Digby joined forces to enter the proposal in the federal government’s Smart Cities Challenge.
Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald hopes recent efforts to promote the quality of life associated with living in the small town will result in more doctors coming to the community to work – and live. - Lawrence Powell

‘Recruitment is so important’

ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. - Work is underway to attract new doctors to an emergency centre that has seen a significant spike in temporary closures this year.

Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) statistics reveal that the Collaborative Emergency Centre (CEC) at the Annapolis Community Health Centre had been closed for a total of 35 days, or 420 hours, from April 1 to Nov. 7.

“Our recent closures are because of challenges with physician availability. In 2016 and 2017, all of the closures were unplanned and due to the shortage of available nurses,” said Dan Marsh, the facility’s health services manager.

He noted that there were 136 closure hours relating to nursing availability from 2016-17 and 196 the following year.

“This past spring, we had two physicians who were no longer able to provide coverage in the CEC. This has created gaps in the coverage schedule.”

Three full-time and two part-time physicians see patients at the emergency centre, Marsh said.

“Before 2018, we had seven full-time physicians providing coverage of the CEC. As stated previously, each of these physicians also have office time for primary health care patients. Ideally, we could use the services of eight full-time physicians.”

Marsh stressed that there is an inter-connected network of emergency care departments in the health authority’s western region spanning from Yarmouth to Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville, but he added that a solution has been identified for the Annapolis CEC.

“We work closely with neighbouring hospitals to coordinate schedules as best we can to help make sure there is emergency department coverage in our region. Part of this is to have planned closures at Annapolis CEC on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he said.

“This allows us to use available physician resources on other days of the week to keep Annapolis CEC open when other neighbouring emergency departments could have an unexpected closure.”

Physician recruitment is ongoing for both permanent and temporary positions, Marsh said.

“We are working towards the solution of recruiting and adding two additional physicians. We are engaged with community leaders in the Annapolis Royal area to develop a comprehensive recruitment strategy that involves promoting the Town of Annapolis Royal as a quality place to live and work, as well as the benefits of working within a Collaborative Emergency Centre and the Annapolis Community Health Centre.”

Annapolis Royal’s own Dr. Simon Bonnington is a physician recruitment ambassador supporting the team tasked with finding new doctors for the area.

“We are also adding resources and additional support to our doctor recruitment team in our zone of NSHA. We have recently launched a new NSHA doctor recruitment website as part of a larger marketing strategy, and have a renewed focus on international medical graduates,” said Marsh.

Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald is encouraged by the latest recruitment efforts launched in response to routine closures impacting the local emergency centre.

“The efforts by our local health care centre and Dr. Bonnington, in particular, to raise the profile of the Town of Annapolis Royal as a place to live and work has been very, very helpful. I know that we often say that sometimes it’s quality of life, more than money, that draws people here and keeps people here,” he said in a phone interview Nov. 7.

“Dr. Bonnington is an example of a doctor from England who came here to work and can’t speak highly enough about the quality of life and how the community has embraced him and his family.”

The mayor added that a focus group has been formed to assist the health centre and provincial health department as various groups work together to find new physicians for the area.

“Both myself, as mayor, and all of the members of council watch with great interest on the recruitment of doctors to not only our town, but the province,” he said.

MacDonald said that while the Town of Annapolis Royal is home to about 500 people, thousands of county residents from nearby communities turn to the health centre for services – especially folks without a family doctor.

“I received calls from members of the community very recently with respect to the scheduled closures of our emergency department Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he said.

“As mayor, I followed up with the manager of the health care centre to find out what the rationale was for that and, obviously, it had to do with staffing shortages, so it certainly illustrates to me, and to the community and to the rest of council, why recruitment is so important.”

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