DIGBY, N.S. – The chair of the Digby and Area Health Services Charitable Foundation, Neil Nichols, was very happy to be on the receiving end of a cheque for more than $5,300 from the owners of the local Tim Hortons.
This was the second time that Teresa and Chris Joyce have chosen the hospital foundation as a recipient for funds raised from the annual Smile Cookie Campaign, bringing their two-year total to more than $11,000.
For Teresa, donating to the health services foundation wasn’t based on a personal story, but rather she said, “Hospitals are every person’s story.
“So many people in this community benefit from the hospital – and we know our hospital struggles, so I’m sure any extra funding to help with equipment or whatever they need goes a long way in a small community. It’s because of the community that our campaign was so successful.”
Nichols said the foundation has been working to increase its fundraising efforts to either purchase outright or support the purchase of updated equipment at the Digby General Hospital. He said the province’s capital requirements for hospitals is long and the need is great.
“We decided to purchase an ultrasound machine a year ago for $175,000. We had a number of reasons for doing that – on the old one the readings were not too accurate but, more importantly, if we’re trying to attract new doctors to the area, we can’t have old, used second-hand equipment,” Nichols said.
But the need is a moving target. The Nova Scotia Health Authority requires communities to ante up 25 per cent of the costs of equipment purchased by local hospitals. Nichols said this has pushed his board into using some of the foundation’s investment money instead of just the dividends and interest.
The funding ratio decision by the province prompted a meeting of the minds years ago when members of the hospital foundation boards from Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby got together to discuss the change and the challenges it represented. That initial meeting of health service and hospital boards soon led to a meeting that included all of the foundations from across the province and the formation of a provincial committee to give the 41 provincial hospital foundations one voice when speaking to the province.
“The first order of business after the committee was organized was to write a letter to the health authority, and we’d done our homework. We found out not all provinces are doing this and Nova Scotia has the highest percentage. That 25 per cent of the total cost of the equipment is the highest of any province in the country,” Nichols said. “Some provinces don’t require any input from communities on equipment purchases.”
Nichols said they have yet to hear a response from their letter to NSHA, but he also said he was told privately that the requirement came from the Department of Finance, not directly from NSHA, and that the provincial government was planning to maintain that 25 per cent.
“So it’s a government policy that’s being carried out by the authority,” Nichols said. “It’s very onerous and it’s very unfair if you look at what other provinces are doing.”
What appears confusing is the fact that for larger capital purchases, like the renal dialysis equipment that has been promised to Digby General Hospital, he said, there is no such 25 per cent requirement. Nichols said they’re not clear what their cut-off point is for funding.
One of the foundation’s largest investments in recent years was towards the building of the new health centre that Nichols said took more than seven years to complete.
“The idea for it came from the many doctors who were interviewed who were concerned that we weren’t modern enough, and also from wanting to have a collaborative health-care approach that the young doctors out of university are looking for,” he said. “We got the province to kick in some money and we finally got it built.”
The foundation has also helped to convince the health authority to focus on Digby as a priority.
“We have three doctors and we could use three more and some more nurse practitioners and until we can demonstrate that we have this nucleus of health-care practitioners, we’re not going to change the attitude in the area – which is still pretty negative.”
Nichols is part of the working group that meets regularly with the health authority to share their ideas and to hear about the NSHA recruiting efforts.
“This group is working pretty hard,” Nichols said. “We have a lot of faith and trust in the people from the health authority that are working on it with us and with the recruiters and time will tell.”
The foundation also has money set aside for medical students to help pay for their education if they would agree to come and work in Digby after they graduate, but Nichols said so far they’ve had no takers.
He has a couple of theories as to why it’s so difficult to recruit health-care workers to smaller communities. He believes medical students in larger centres – Halifax, Montreal, Toronto – get used to the big-city life and all that entails or that they find a spouse established in the city and then neither partner is interested in moving away.
“I think that that reason, changing their lifestyle, changing from a big-city atmosphere to a local atmosphere is a big hurdle,” Nichols said. He believes the town could do more to embrace the doctors who do arrive. “We have to keep them engaged and help them understand that we need them here and we should be doing whatever we can – taking them out to play golf or sailing or out to dinner or whatever it is – a social gathering – I think the town needs to step up its game a little bit on that.”
Meanwhile, the foundation must continue to raise funds to meet the ongoing demands for equipment and to ensure they’re not dipping further into their investments.
They’ve started a regular golf tournament and they have a brand new event happening April 21 – a gala fundraising dinner and they’re asking people to bookmark that date.
Besides the purchase of equipment, the foundation donates money to other worthy causes, like Transport de Clare. The non-profit transportation company just received $5,000 from the health services foundation board after they found out the company had made 75 trips to the hospital in 2017 delivering people from Clare who either didn’t have a ride or couldn’t afford one. Another $5,000 was donated to SchoolsPlus last year and the foundation also pays one-third of the salary for Dawn Thomas at the Digby and Area Seniors’ Safety Society. Nichols said they haven’t yet received a formal request from the Jordantown-Acaciaville-Conway Betterment Association for funding, but said if a request were tied to health care, it would definitely be considered.
While further details about the new health services foundation fundraising gala will be provided soon, Nichols reminds the community that the need is great.
“As a result of those provincial requirements, fundraising has now become very important to us,” Nichols said.