Aberdeen Hospital has plan in place as strike looms

Sueann Musick
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NEW  GLASGOW – A pending nurses strike in Capital Health has far-reaching effects that will place extra burden on the local health care system.

Dr. Nicole Boutilier, vice-president of medical affairs for the Pictou County Health Authority, said Tuesday that a plan is in place at the Aberdeen Hospital to accommodate as many people as possible since 2,400 nurses in the NSGEU are in a legal strike position on Thursday.

"We have been planning this for weeks in preparation," she said. "We have been on a two-week countdown and last week we adopted a province-wide approach."

The union and the Capital District Health Authority have been unable to come to an agreement despite the help of a mediator.

Late Monday night, Capital Health said on its website that mediated talks ended in an impasse. A spokesman for the health board said earlier Monday that as the strike deadline approaches, it continues to cancel surgeries and transfer patients to hospitals outside of Halifax.

The key sticking point in the dispute is a demand from the union to increase nurse-to-patient ratios, something it says would improve patient safety. The health authority has said there is no evidence that mandated ratios guarantee better safety.

Provincial media reports say about 50 nurses failed to show up to work today. The province spent most of this week debating legislation that would require health care workers to agree with management which positions were essential services and staff those positions before starting to strike.

Boutilier said the Pictou County Health Authority plans to retrieve as many of its patients as possible from Capital Health to lessen the burden on the staff and services in the Halifax area.

However, she added, these patients require many different levels of care, and the local authority does not have the ability to open any new beds or hire extra staff so it must use the resources it has available.

"We are going to have to make due with what we have," she said, "which is going to back the emergency department."

In order to free up as many beds and staff as possible, the Pictou County Health Authority has cancelled all inpatient elective surgery.

"Anything that requires admission will be postponed until later," she said. "So far, 11 patients fall into that category."

Lastly, Boutilier added, the Pictou County hospital will act as a transfer station for incoming orthopaedic traumas. This means all emergency orthopaedic procedures that would usually go to Capital Health will come to the Aberdeen Hospital. Cape Breton and another hospital the province's valley are also taking on the same responsibility.

She said the local health authority has been in this type of situation a few times in the past year with potential strikes by the Victoria Order of Nurses, Emergency Health Services and Canadian Union of Public Employees.

"In the words of Pat Lee, our CEO, we have a plan and we will work that plan," she said.

However, Boutilier said, the Capital Health District plays a major role in the health care system across the province in addition to being the only centre in Atlantic Canada that provides certain types of procedures.

Meanwhile, in the Nova Scotia Legislature Tuesday, Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn also expressed his concern about how a strike would affect local patients.

"I do want to assure the member representing Pictou Centre that patient safety and making sure that as many services that take place in that hospital from day to day and week to week remain in place,” said Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine. "We already have a system that is very integrated, and this is one of those test periods when we’ll see that it will work well and that Nova Scotians will get the emergency care, the acute care, that they need tomorrow."

Dunn said the Pictou County Health Authority services 46,000 patients and he feels they will suffer do to staffing issues at Capital Health.

"The patients and staff across the province will feel the effects of the staff shortages in the Capital region; the seriousness of these staffing levels will be felt for months due to the mismanagement of this government," he said. 

Glavine replied by saying the next few days will be challenging, but he expects the new essential services legislation will keep things flowing within the province's health care system.

"I have great faith in all who provide health care delivery in our province that once this legislation is passed, we will move forward to look after those who are in the queue, especially for elective surgery, and get things back on track very quickly," he said. 

Organizations: Pictou County Health Authority, Capital Health District, Aberdeen Hospital Capital District Health Authority Pictou County hospital Emergency Health Services Canadian Union of Public Employees Pictou Centre

Geographic location: Halifax, Cape Breton, Atlantic Canada Nova Scotia

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