Top News

VIBERT: Government tries to shine hospital closures

Nova Scotians found out this week what it takes to get some new nursing home beds.

You just need to give up a hospital, or as the government says, “reshape and revitalize” health care in your neck of the rocks.

The new long-term care beds headed for North Sydney and New Waterford include the first additions to Nova Scotia’s nursing home capacity under the five-year-old McNeil government.

Government — the provincial Liberal administration has taken to referring to itself without benefit of the article “the” — announced Monday it is closing two of the four hospitals in the old industrial heart of Cape Breton but dressed the news up in its Sunday finest.

Only a cynic would suggest politics is involved in closing the hospital in North Sydney, represented by Tory Eddie Orrell, or New Waterford, which lies in New Democrat Tammy Martin’s riding, while Glace Bay’s hospital gets an upgrade. Liberal Business Minister Geoff MacLellan held on to the Glace Bay seat by his fingernails in last spring’s election.

The Glace Bay hospital, built by John Buchanan’s government, is newer than the two slated to close, so surely that is the reason it survives.

The government arrived in Sydney with one premier, three cabinet ministers and Janet Knox, CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, plus a legion of functionaries, to announce all the good news the people who gathered at the press conference could bear.

Indeed, the audience was so overcome with emotion they begged Premier Stephen McNeil to end the litany of largess lest they be overcome by the embarrassment of riches. “Shame, shame” they cried, unable to reap any further benefit.

And he delivered news, even to the people who go to work every day at the Northside General and the New Waterford Consolidated hospitals. There are many ways to discover your workplace is about to disappear and, other than the earth opening to swallow it, hearing or reading about it in the news is about the worst.

The fact is, four hospitals are too many for a region of about 100,000 people that can be traversed by road in a little over an hour.

The Cape Breton Regional Hospital will undergo upgrades, specifically to its emergency room which, like Glace Bay’s, will get added space and perhaps eventually even some doctors to practise medicine in that space.

The government — the article stays — knew there was no good way to announce the closures, so it did the best it could with what it had. Unfortunately, in this case, the government’s best came up short of common decency.

The province is drawing as much criticism for the manner as for the nature of its announcement.

Heaven forbid the employer — the Nova Scotia Health Authority so, in effect, the province — speak in advance of its public announcement with the nurses, doctors and others working at those hospitals and most directly affected by their closures.

To do so would risk losing control of the message. So, the province let the politics of message control — rather than common decency — be its guide.

“It’s really hurtful and it’s disappointing that nobody really had the insight and the fortitude to come and try and talk to the people,” said Dr. Stephanie Langley, who works at the Northside General.

Many of the medical procedures now available at the Northside or New Waterford facilities are promised to continue in “new, modern community health centres” that no one will mistake for a hospital because they won’t have emergency rooms.

The province is offering a new paramedic program based in the region, which is a welcome development given there were times this winter and spring when there wasn’t an ambulance on the entire island. North Sydney will also get to take in the laundry for the surviving health facilities.

Finally, it was left to Ms. Knox to try to shine the smouldering heap.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to redesign our services to better meet the needs of these communities now and into the future,” she said, adding, “our goal . . . is for the people of Cape Breton to receive the right care, at the right time, in the right place.”

Those shopworn clichés can be traced back to the 1990s and the Savage government, and they went over about as well back then.

Recent Stories