NOTE TO READERS: This is Part 1 in a set of stories we’ll be running focusing on the health-care system in Digby and concerns that people have. Keep an eye out on our website www.digbycourier.ca and in the Tri-County Vanguard for stories and responses from a local care coalition and the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
DIGBY, N.S. – Regular access to primary care health workers in the area and the ongoing gaps in 24/7 emergency services at Digby General Hospital continue to be issues for area residents.
One of these residents decided it was time to speak out about her ongoing frustration and how she’s had to learn to “work the system.”
Diane Allen actually lives in Cornwallis, in Annapolis County, halfway between Digby and Annapolis Royal, but her nurse practitioner is in Digby, and her regular wait time to access that nurse practitioner is often up to 60 days.
“It still shocks me to say that,” Allen says. “So whatever it is that’s going on – a cold or a cough or I need a prescription renewed or it’s time for routine blood work – it’s 60 days.”
While that probably isn’t news to most Digby area residents who are facing the same issue, Allen is fed up.
“The only alternative here is to go to emergency,” Allen says. “There is never a provision for same-day appointments, never a doctor on call who can take are of all of the clinic’s patients. If someone needs to see a doctor today, you have to go to emergency.”
But with her address across the Annapolis County border, Allen has learned she can also visit the Annapolis Community Health Centre, where she will be given an appointment to see a doctor the same day.
“They give you an appointment time, so you can go home in between if that appointment is in two hours or whatever,” Allen says. “It seems so ridiculous how different the two centres are. In Digby, I’ve sat for seven hours waiting to see someone for a non-emergency in emergency. There they tell me to come back at 2 p.m.
“If it’s all under one health authority, how can they be operated so differently?” Allen asks. “Chronic conditions just aren’t being managed.”
Allen says she’s really happy with her nurse practitioner – when she can get in to see her, but she says her last nurse practitioner left Digby because she was “completely stressed out.”
“She was excellent, but she kept having to take more and more time off work,” Allen says. “She was young, very good, but she was gone within a year, and every time you have a new person you start from scratch – the continuity of care is very, very poor.”
Allen also says the way the two emergency departments are operated between Annapolis and Digby is unsettling to her.
“When the emergency department is closed in Annapolis, there is still someone there – you can at least see a nurse practitioner after hours,” Allen says. “Here in Digby, when it’s closed, it’s closed and somehow as a resident you have to figure all of these things out.”
Allen says that lack of knowledge adds another layer of stress to an already stressful situation.
“It feels so complicated. It isn’t closed all the time, but there have been a couple of instances, when I’ve had a heart thing – nothing terrible – but I needed to get checked, but first I had to call and check to see if the place I wanted to go was open.”
The regionalization of services is also disturbing to the Cornwallis resident. In the last year, she’s had to drive to Halifax three times for appointments, to Yarmouth for tests and to either Digby or Annapolis repeatedly for prescription renewals or routine blood work.
“My medical travel bills are astronomical,” Allen says. “Luckily I have the option of going to Annapolis if I need to. For people in Weymouth, if they can’t see someone in Digby, they have to go all the way to Yarmouth.”
She has harsh words for the Nova Scotia Health Authority and its capacity to manage the local system.
“Their bureaucracy always seems to trump patient welfare,” Allen says, describing her ongoing concerns with the downsizing of health-care services available in Digby in recent years and what she calls “a complete lack of communication.”
“There is very little communication with patients about what is going on,” Allen says. “And the people working in the system are burnt out. They’re taxed with systems that don’t work and they must get so tired of constantly having to deal with legitimate patient concerns, so their attitudes suck, and I don’t blame them. They’re the frontline. They’re the complaint department.”
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE
Allen’s concerns aren’t just about access. Her other concern is the rumour she has heard floating around the community that the Digby hospital is going to become a health centre, more like the one in Annapolis Royal.
“I don’t think people are wrong when they say they suspect the health authority wants to regionalize more services out of Digby,” she says. “And how is that practical for local residents?”
Allen shakes her head.
“Honestly, there has not been any ability to keep doctors working in Digby already – they come here and then they leave. With those rumours floating around, doctors won’t come here at all.”
Allen says she has friends who have moved out of the area because of their concerns over access to primary health care.
“People need ongoing care and they’re just not getting it,” Allen says. “There is something in the bureaucracy that just isn’t working. It’s a systemic problem.”
When asked if she believes she requires more health care than the average senior, she laughs.
“I tell my husband I have more issues than Vogue,” she says. “He laughs, but sadly, in recent years, it’s true.”
However, Allen says she has no intention of moving from her home. Instead, by speaking out, she hopes to nudge the system forward.
“I want to keep the conversation going,” she says. “I’m always someone who wants to work towards a solution. I know complaining doesn’t do any good unless your complaining to work towards a goal.”
Asked what she would do if she were in charge for one day? Allen responds without hesitation.
“Immediately improve communications with patients.”