SHELBURNE, N.S. – Hundreds of Shelburne County residents took to the streets for the People over Politics march and rally to protest the current health-care crisis on Saturday, Sept. 22.
Starting at the Loyalist Plaza (Woodworkers Home Furniture) on Water Street in Shelburne, participants were joined along the route as they marched to the Community Centre on King Street, where others were waiting to show their support.
Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall, Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland, Shelburne Fire Chief Darrell Locke and Roger Taylor, councillor for the Municipality of Shelburne, took the podium, all echoing the same message – the health-care system is in crisis for rural Nova Scotia and it needs to be fixed.
“The province of Nova Scotia through the NSHA (Nova Scotia Health Authority) has allowed the state of health care for all Nova Scotians, and particularly Shelburne County and other rural areas, to devolve to a deplorable state,” said Mayor Mattatall. “All parties have had a hand over the years in the demise of the system. However, it’s time to stop blaming the people in the past and fix it now. People’s lives are in jeopardy.”
Mattatall, as well as other speakers, called on the province to make health care the top of their priority list.
“Spending millions and millions of dollars on a bloated bureaucracy instead of front-line services is not addressing our needs,” she said. “We need the ER 24/7 at Roseway Hospital and we shouldn’t settle on that as a solution as it doesn’t provide everyone with a family doctor, it won’t reduce wait times, it won’t allow us access to services locally that support our demographic which is growing, and it doesn’t recognize our geography. It won’t prevent the horror stories we hear of people travelling long distances to access services that should be available right here in our own community.”
Mattatall said up until the mid-1990s, Nova Scotia had a system that worked quite well.
“The decision-making was made locally, not by a bureaucratic organization that we have no connection with. At that time, the province felt because the health-care budget was consuming 25 per cent of the province’s total budget it was unsustainable, so they hired a consultant and the consultant determined too many doctors and too many hospitals and that’s how they were going to reduce the cost,” the mayor said. “However, 20 years later it’s consuming 50 per cent of Nova Scotia’s total budget and we certainly in rural Nova Scotia are seeing about 25 per cent of the services we saw then. Rural Nova Scotians have been the victims. We’ve watched a 52-bed facility (Roseway Hospital) erode to very minimal services today.”
Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland told those gathered that having this many people come out to support Roseway Hospital access and delivery sends a strong message to provincial Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey.
“This is a crisis and it’s a crisis our government is not admitting to,” said Masland. “After two hospital closures in Cape Breton my fear is this government is coming for us next. I’m not saying this to add to your fear. I’m saying this because I’m worried.
“In question period, I asked Randy Delorey several times to guarantee to me as long as he was minister of heath this hospital would remain an open, full-service hospital. I asked for a yes-or-no answer. He said a lot of words in reply but none of them were yes,” she said, adding she has also asked the premier the same question. “He didn’t say yes either, instead he scolded me for being so bold, that such a young politician as myself would choose so early in my career to insult a minister.”
Masland said she has heard from numerous constituents with health-care concerns.
“I listened to the fear in a young parent’s voice when they arrived at the local ER with their convulsing child to be told it’s closed and they need to call 911. I’ve listened to the concern of a cancer patient who requires access to the ER within that golden hour and fears the ER might be closed. I have shared fears of an 18-year-old boy who sat in the ER for hours desperately reaching out for mental health treatment only to leave because he couldn’t bear to have community members watching him cry,” she said. “I’ve heard the frustration of a young lady who was suffering from something as simple as a bladder infection on a Friday and was told by her physician she would need to travel to Yarmouth or Liverpool to have a urinalysis done because the lab was closed. I’ve listened to young parents who struggle to make ends meet but are forced to take time off work and travel and sit in an ER for an entire day with a sick child, all because they don’t have a family doctor at home. Senior citizens have said they are giving up because they can’t bear to travel for dialysis or sit in an ER to have a simple prescription refilled.
Masland spoke about her 84-year-old grandmother and about how she laid on an ER gurney for five days in a small examining room with no bathroom facilities and another infectious patient.
“Nurses were walking in fully gowned and masked while my grandmother lay there totally exposed. Some of her last words to me were, ‘My dear I’m too sick to be home but I’m too sick to be here,’” she said. “She died eight days later. I will never forgive the system that failed her. I will never forget the nurses and doctors who tried so hard to make things better for her, but the government was asking them to do the impossible. She deserved better and so do all of you… My message to you is do not stop fighting.”
Shelburne Fire Chief Darrell Locke said Delorey “doesn’t have a sweet clue and he doesn’t want to know.”
“He wants us to quietly go away. The minister of health wants everyone to believe the EHS system is a good substitute for the ER. EHS are a wonderful group of people who do an absolutely fabulous job. However, right now, today in Shelburne, there’s one ambulance on duty. As soon as somebody needs it, that ambulance is away from the area, so another ambulance will get shifted close to this area. That could be Exit 30 in Barrington. It could be sitting in Sable River covering Liverpool and Shelburne and right to Barrington,” he said, adding there are times that ambulances are “not readily available,” and at times when that happens there are volunteer firefighters qualified as first responders.
“In the absence of an ambulance we will come. We do the best we can with our level of training,” said the fire chief. “We do not and cannot transport patients anywhere so our level of care to you is going to be in your kitchen, your bedroom, your living room, wherever we might find you.”
Shelburne Municipal Councillor Roger Taylor said when he first started raising concerns about health care about 10 years ago, “I felt like the lone wolf, but now health care is the number-one priority of the Federation of Nova Scotia Municipalities, so it’s just not us. We can’t let the government get away with this. Let’s keep up the fight.”
A province-wide rally to bring attention to the health-care crisis is slated to be held in communities across Nova Scotia on Oct. 13. Further details will be released soon.
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