Many questions and concerns were raised on the state of healthcare in Pictou County on Sunday but few answers were found.
This was the sentiment expressed by District 12 Councillor Chester Dewar at a public meeting on the issue held at Summer Street Industries. Several hundred people were in attendance.
Although a non-political event, Dewar was just one of many municipal politicians and municipal election candidates present. The audience also included all three MLAs for Pictou County, as well as provincial Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie.
Dewar’s speech largely revolved around Municipal Council’s frustration at the inability to have Halifax address and clarify “the rumour mill” whisperings of two new doctors for Pictou County.
Others were far more personal, charged and baffled.
Frustrations from the general public included accusations from doctors that their medical problems could be attributed to their (non-existent) alcoholism, a lack of access to specialists, quick judgments based on patient’s physical appearance and weight rather than proper diagnosis and a refusal to X-ray a patient’s foot which led to further damage and a lifetime of wearing orthotics.
It was the shortage of family doctors, the closure of the Sutherland-Harris Memorial Hospital after-hours clinic, and the permanent shut down of the Aberdeen Hospital’s short-stay mental health unit that received the most vocal attention.
One woman, who said she suffers from back issues as well as borderline personality disorder, said she recently entered the Aberdeen with thoughts of suicide, only to leave feeling emotionally abused and mistreated.
Catherine Kelly, one of eight invited speakers, shared a story of a friend who was recently admitted to the ER for suicidal thoughts.
After two days waiting for mental healthcare, her friend had to leave as he was a witness for a court case and received a call enroute that he had been discharged and would be called by someone in mental health within 72 hours. At the “last hour of the last day” the man received said call and was told he could have an appointment in five weeks. When he replied he would “probably be dead by then” he was asked “So you don’t need your appointment?”
“That’s the kind of support we’re receiving,” Kelly said.
Sheila Chisholm, a New Glasgow resident whose husband suffers from bipolar disorder, said in her opinion “they did us a favour closing the mental health unit.”
“It was dreadful, from where I’m coming from,” Chisholm said, in reference to her work with the provincial government in community services. “You can’t sit behind closed doors and leave patients by themselves… Antigonish and Truro have wonderful mental health units, why can’t we have the same here?”
Additional concerns regarding the lack of mental healthcare were raised on behalf of the LGBT community, especially the transgendered community who require a doctor they are not only comfortable coming out to but are also acquainted with their needs.
A woman identifying as “Sandy, from the town of Pictou” addressed the disadvantages faced by people in Pictou West when it comes to medical care.
She expressed an extreme disappointment in her move to the Maritimes, citing “corruption” within the county and the “ridiculous Wellness Centre which is not even in a community” but “on the side of a highway,” and the addition of a second rotary in Pictou. She suggested the money used on these projects could have been used to “build a state of the art hospital” in Pictou.
“This is Pictou County, not New Glasgow County,” the woman said. “New Glasgow not only has a full service hospital, it has a walk-in clinic, and what do we get? We always get the scrap ends in the town of Pictou.”
She noted an incapability with the CHAD bus operational hours with those of the walk-in clinic, that many people in her town do not drive, and that making arrangements get medical attention in New Glasgow is difficult for those with a limited income.
Janet Knox, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Health Authority, was the final invited speaker.
“It really has been very important for us to be here,” Knox said. “I want to let you know that we have heard that and it’s very important.”
Knox said she agreed with a point made by one of the members of the public that “the population has changed dramatically in the last decade.”
“We may need to make changes in terms of where services are offered because, as she said, the population has moved or has changed and we have to be open to that,” Knox said.
“I’ve heard very clearly from you, and it’s definitely a concern of ours, that access to services is number one. It’s not okay to say that we have a service but you can’t get to it or you can’t see the people that you need to see.”
Catherine Kelly, top photo, an invited speaker at Sunday’s public meeting on the state of healthcare in Pictou County, shared a friend’s experiences with mental healthcare in the county and her own concerns about the quality of service available. Shelia Chisholm, right, from New Glasgow also voiced concerns on the state of healthcare. (Cameron photos)