HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s health minister is sidestepping questions about whether he thinks it’s acceptable that a Cape Breton woman who is halfway through her pregnancy still doesn’t have a family doctor.
Kirsten DeJong, who moved to Boularderie, N.S., from Ontario in 2015, said Thursday that she now has an appointment with an obstetrician at the end of the month, but only after months of phone calls to nurse practitioners, clinics and doctor’s offices.
“I get there’s a shortage, but come on. We’re in Canada and I’m pregnant,” said the 32-year-old woman.
“The biggest thing when you get pregnant is you want that confirmation. You want to hear the heartbeat. You want to see the baby. You want something. I haven’t been able to get that.”
Health Minister Randy Delorey told reporters that it’s “important to recognize” the Nova Scotia Health Authority does have a referral process in place to address situations like DeJong’s — adding that “to my knowledge this isn’t the norm of situations that take place in the province.”
“This situation does show that the individual did get the referral and is getting in to see the specialists that they need to help manage and monitor their progress,” said Delorey.
Delorey did say he was concerned about the number of times DeJong had to reach out for help, but again wouldn’t say whether her story was a symptom of growing problems with the province’s health care system.
He said short-term solutions that would provide immediate patient access “don’t exist” in Nova Scotia or elsewhere in the country.
“What does exist is recognizing that we do have to take steps to improve the availability of primary care providers.”
Delorey said that’s why the province has been highlighting steps like increasing the number of residency positions and planned expansions to collaborative care teams — although the effects of those initiatives are likely years away.
DeJong said she became pregnant in late July and soon after called the closest midwife, about a half hour’s drive away, but was turned down because of the distance.
DeJong, who is on the health authority’s wait-list for a family doctor, said she called countless nurse practitioners and doctor’s offices looking for a family doctor or an obstetrician, but nobody was taking on new clients.
She then attempted to book an appointment with a pre-natal clinic at a hospital in Sydney, N.S., but was told she needed to go to an emergency or walk-in clinic for a referral to a doctor.
DeJong eventually caved in and visited the emergency clinic at the end of September and obtained a referral for an obstetrician, but she still hadn’t heard anything a month after her visit.
She remembered the doctor’s name so she called herself, and was told they had been trying to reach her, but were apparently calling an incorrect number. Nevertheless, they were calling to say they could not take her on. After pleading with them, they eventually agreed to see her at the end of November.
DeJong said her plight highlights the province’s doctor shortage, which she said has reached “crisis” levels in Cape Breton.
“As soon as you cross that causeway, I swear we’re cut off … The midwives said they could have hooked me up with a doctor in Antigonish. That’s horrible. I can get a doctor if I go on the other side of the causeway, but I can’t get one here where I live,” said DeJong, who has one daughter.
In addition to the doctor shortages, the province’s health care system has been plagued by chronic problems related to emergency room closures in rural areas and overcrowding in hospital emergency rooms.
Delorey said there are no “instant fixes” to problems that have existed for years, and in a province that is only two years into a significant restructuring of health care administration — moving from 10 health authorities to two.
Still, he insists improvements have been made.
“We see individuals in the province who under the old model would be waiting on wait lists … and not have the opportunity to transfer and receive those services in another community where wait lists may be shorter,” Delorey said. “Under the new authority we are already seeing that happen.”