Home Health care provider A Snapshot of the Challenges Facing Nova Scotia’s Rural Health Care Teams – Halifax

A Snapshot of the Challenges Facing Nova Scotia’s Rural Health Care Teams – Halifax

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The front lines of health care in rural Nova Scotia communities remain passionate about patient care, even when faced with challenges beyond their control.

“When people come in and we’re closed, we have to deal with a range of emotions,” said Andrea van Hal, a registered nurse prescriber with more than 20 years of experience.

“We have empathy and understanding, but we also feel a lot of anger and frustration from people. And it all really stems from the fear of not being able to access it for themselves or their loved ones,” van Hal said.

The registered nurse is part of a tight-knit healthcare team at Twin Oaks Memorial Hospital in Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia.

She says that even in the face of limited resources, staff often work 24-hour shifts to try to avoid having to temporarily close their emergency department doors.

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“Closing the emergency department is sort of the last, last resort. So what usually leads to that is staffing, whether it’s a lack of doctors or nurses,” she said.

Twin Oaks Memorial Hospital is located in Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia


Alexa MacLean / Global Halifax


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While shortages of doctors and nurses are a province-wide problem, the result of these shortages in rural hospitals often leads to limitations in emergency care.

“Even calling an ambulance could also be a long delay due to the pressures on them. So knowing that they don’t have access to these community hospitals creates a lot of fear in the community and a lot of stress,” van Hal said.

According to data from Nova Scotia Health, in 2018 the Twin Oak emergency department was closed for 159 hours.

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In 2019, it was closed for 560 hours, increasing to 1,059 closing hours in 2021.

When a temporary emergency department closure is in effect, van Hal says people are still being assessed at the door. If they need intensive care, she says the nurse’s only option is to call 911.

“Nothing about turning people away does any good from a health care perspective. It doesn’t feel good not being able to provide care,” she said.

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Van Hal recently completed a new provincial program that expands the scope of nurses to include the ability to prescribe medication.

She hopes these types of innovative solutions along with active recruitment efforts will lead to a stronger health care system for Nova Scotia.

“I truly believe that we can do better and that people deserve better access to care.”

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