By Jaime Bayers
“I could die on the way to the IWK,” says Kirstin Fahie, a seventeen-year-old girl with epilepsy from Sheet Harbour. The emergency room at Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital is one of several across Nova Scotia that has suffered a series of closures over the winter and spring because, in the words of the Nova Scotia Health Board, “of the unavailability of a physician to cover the shift.”
The nearest hospital to Sheet Harbour is at least 30 minutes away, which makes these ER closures daunting, especially when you’re seventeen and have epilepsy. Fahie has lived in Sheet Harbour all her life, but now, with her present diagnosis and the rural hospitals nearby all struggling with a shortage of doctors, she doesn’t feel as comfortable as she once did in the place where she’s grown up.
“If we need an ambulance, it’s just expensive, and it’s time consuming,” Fahie says. “I feel like it’s my fault, and that I’m wasting time. If I have a seizure and hit my head…if I couldn’t go to something quick, I could be seriously injured. Families could easily lose loved ones.”
Fahie wonders why the province couldn’t do a better job of scheduling doctors’ times. “I think the doctors could split up between the hospitals, so they can get to everyone,” Fahie said. “And I think that they should make a bit more money for working out here, not much, but at least a bit more.”
ER closures are not just a threat to individuals, but to the survival of rural communities as a whole, creating anxiety about the future of health care all along the Eastern Shore even in families who’re not wrestling with acute health problems.
“Living in a community with a full-time hospital, it really makes me feel safe,” said a concerned, middle-aged woman who is familiar with Fahie’s situation. “These emergency room problems don’t encourage anyone to come out to these small communities. If the emergency room in this community [Musquodoboit Harbour] were to shut down half the month, I truly would be considering moving to town. Maybe not now, but when I was older, closer to my retirement age. You need to have a doctor around!”