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SYDNEY - If it’s your perception that the number of emergency department closure hours is on the rise, the most recent report detailing ER closures released by the province bear that out, with multiple hospitals in Cape Breton seeing significant increases in the number of closure hours in 2017-18.

And while closures at certain facilities have become increasingly commonplace in recent years, some others that hadn’t seen any temporary closure hours the previous year saw notable jumps.

The annual accountability report on emergency departments was released Thursday.

Province-wide, there were 17,926 scheduled closure hours and 12,567.5 in temporary closure hours in 2017-18. That compared with 19,707 hours of scheduled closures and 5,417.5 in temporary closures a year earlier.

In Zone 3, or the Eastern Zone, which includes Cape Breton’s hospitals, there was a total of 13,979 emergency department closure hours in 2017-18. That included 6,087 scheduled closure hours and 519 in temporary closures at the Northside General Hospital and 3,654 scheduled closure hours and 404 in temporary closure hours at the New Waterford Consolidated Hospital.

At hospitals that had no scheduled closure hours, Glace Bay saw 1,835 temporary closure hours, the Strait Richmond Hospital in Evanston saw 828 temporary closure hours, St. Anne Community and Nursing Care Centre in Arichat saw 451 temporary closure hours and Victoria County Memorial Hospital saw 194 temporary closure hours.

In 2016-17 in Zone 3, there had been a total of 11,929 emergency department closure hours. That included 6,205 scheduled closure hours and 173 in temporary closures at the Northside General Hospital and 3,647 scheduled closure hours and 545.5 in temporary closure hours at the New Waterford Consolidated Hospital.

Glace Bay saw 885.5 temporary closure hours in 2016-17, while St. Anne Community and Nursing Care Centre in Arichat had seen 470 temporary closure hours that year.

“Emergency department closures that are unpredictable and unplanned are considered temporary closures,” a statement by Health Minister Randy Delorey at the beginning of the report states. “We continue to work with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) to reduce temporary emergency department closures. In 2017–18, 18 hospitals experienced temporary closures as a result of emergency department staff (nurses, physicians or paramedics) unavailability.”

NDP Health critic Tammy Martin said in a news release that the increase in rural emergency room closures means people can’t rely on getting emergency care in their communities.

“The Liberal government has abandoned rural emergency rooms,” she said. “People see it in their communities and these numbers confirm it.”

“These numbers represent real hardship for Nova Scotians who expect access to emergency healthcare close to home,” PC Health critic Karla MacFarlane said in a news release.

The planning process is currently underway for the redevelopment of the health-care system in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which the planned expansions of emergency departments at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and the Glace Bay Hospital, and the closures of the Northside General and New Waterford Consolidated hospitals, to be replaced by health centres without emergency departments.

The ongoing difficulty in staffing the emergency departments was given as one of the factors behind the redevelopment announcement.

For more, see here.

nancy.king@cbpost.com

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