Health-care workers in the Sydney area woke up to the news on Monday that their world was about to change.
The provincial government announced that two old hospitals — Northside General in North Sydney and New Waterford Consolidated — were to close. New community health centres and long-term-care facilities will be built in their place.
Each of the long-term-care facilities will have about 48 beds, adding 50 beds to the region’s system.
Emergency facilities at the region’s two remaining hospitals, Cape Breton Regional in Sydney and Glace Bay Hospital, will be expanded.
Boos and heckling greeted Premier Stephen McNeil as he made the announcement in Sydney on Monday.
The government is in a nearly impossible bind. Our health-care infrastructure is aging badly and needs upgrading or replacement.
But these changes are usually perceived, fairly in many cases, as cutbacks with all the attendant job losses and emergency room closures. And no one wants a hospital in their town closed.
Yet the Sydney area has four old-style hospitals, each within a 40-minute drive of each other, for 100,000 people. Given the province’s financial situation, something had to give.
Dr. Margaret Fraser of the Cape Breton Medical Staff Association said that it was only given a few hours’ notice of the announcement and no indication of what was coming. She said her group was not consulted.
So the changes seemed sudden to those most affected by them, even though clearly the province has been planning them for some time.
There’s a danger, therefore, that this sensible plan will not be accepted in Cape Breton, in part because it appeared so abruptly, without local input.
You have to admire a government that does something it knows will be unpopular because it thinks it’s the right thing to do. But there’s still a responsibility to treat the people most affected by a decision with respect.
And selling this plan to a skeptical public is not made any easier by a process that seems calculated to bypass any opposition or opportunity for feedback.
We think health care in Cape Breton will improve as a result of these changes. But the government should do a better job of presenting it and defending it, in Cape Breton, as fiscally prudent and medically sound.