Staff at Cape Breton hospital brace for chaotic weekend as only ER in town

The people who work at the largest hospital in Cape Breton are preparing for what could be a chaotic weekend.

The emergency department at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney will be the only ER operating in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality for the next two days.

Like many families this weekend, Lisa Bond is planning activities with her children to kick off March break and hoping she will not need emergency services.

“It’s scary to live here and it’s very sad,” she said. “We the people who elected this group are being completely ignored. They don’t care.”

The emergency departments in North Sydney, Glace Bay, and New Waterford will all be closed Saturday and Sunday.

The only option for people needing emergency care is at the island’s largest hospital, the Cape Breton Regional.

Health Minister Randy Delorey is hoping a new program will help avoid future staff shortages.

“We’ve made changes to our incentive programs to emergency shift premiums and so on, to help fill shifts that would otherwise go unfilled,” Delorey said.

Last June, the Liberals announced plans to close the Northside General and New Waterford Consolidated, replacing both with community health centres.

That plan is supported by Dr. Chris Milburn, but he admits working this weekend will be a challenge.

“We really are getting to a critical point,” Milburn said. “We’re holding it together for now, but it’s getting shaky and there’s a lot of concern amongst our group.”

One of the problems is that doctors that used to staff ER departments like the one in Glace Bay, are being called to Sydney to help cover shifts at the regional. “Unfortunately, our staffing situation continues to drift in the wrong direction,” Milburn said. “We continue to lose more doctors, even over the last few months. Things are getting very tight and as it gets more tight, there’s more and more pressure on the doctors who are left.”

Milburn fears the long hours will make it harder to keep the doctors who are here. 

As Bond makes plans for the weekend, she’s says she’s angry about the state of health care.

“When they first started closing Northside General at night, I called it then,” she said. “I said: ‘if we allow them to take away one bit, they’ll keep going until we have nothing left,’ and unfortunately they are proving me right.”

The closures are not only causing concern for this weekend, but the future as well.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.





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