N.S. announces slate of changes to improve emergency departments

The province says teams led by doctors will be deployed to triage patients and get them out of ambulances and into ERs faster. New patient advocates will also be in place in every emergency room by this Saturday.

More nurse practitioners and patient advocates will be added to ERs

A woman with long black hair and glasses sits at a table and listens to questions.

The Nova Scotia government has announced a long list of changes it hopes will improve care at emergency departments, including ways to ensure patients with the most urgent needs get help first, improving ambulance response times and offering more places for people to receive care.

"Our health-care system has been neglected for years, for almost my entire career as a registered nurse," said Health Minister Michelle Thompson at a news conference on Wednesday. "Government after government of all political stripes has focused on efficiency and cost containment in health care, despite calls from experts and health-care workers that the system was in trouble.

"They were warned that our workforce would retire en masse, chronic disease rates were increasing, and our proportion of the population that was elderly would grow. And the lack of proper infrastructure and human resource investments would leave us in the place we find ourselves in today. But nobody listened.…

"We are investing and we are working tirelessly to reverse the tide brought on by so many years of neglect."

Karen Oldfield, the president and CEO of Nova Scotia Health, urged people with skills in health care to come forward.

"We're looking for more help. If you're a nurse or a nurse practitioner or a physician or any other health-care worker who's looking for work, rest assured, I'm looking for you. Let us know that you're available.

"Because we can do it if we all pull together with a common goal: a system that is ready, responsive and reliable."

Emergency department changes

In order to get speedier care in urgent cases, the government said in a news release that it plans to deploy teams led by doctors to triage patients and get them out of ambulances and into ERs faster.

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners will be assigned to provide care in emergency departments, and more nurse practitioners will be added to emergency rooms. The province said physician assistants, under the supervision of a doctor, can care for up to 62 per cent of all patients in emergency departments.

Care providers will support patients in waiting rooms by reassessing their needs, and patient advocates will help patients in the waiting room by talking to them and offering food and blankets. Patient advocates will be in place in every emergency room by this Saturday, the government said.

Virtual care will be made available to more patients with less urgent needs.

Health-care teams will also receive real-time data on where beds are available, and what is necessary to get patients home so that beds can be freed up, according to the news release.

Provincial officials were not specific about how much the changes would cost, but Jeannine Lagassé, deputy minister, department of health and wellness, told reporters it would be "tens of millions."

Support for paramedics

The government is also pledging that paramedic training will be offered at more Nova Scotia Community College campuses, and a tuition rebate of $11,500 will be provided to paramedics who work in the province for at least three years.

That training program will be offered in Yarmouth starting in April and in Pictou in September.

A second air ambulance will be added to conduct routine transfers between Sydney and Halifax, and Yarmouth and Halifax in order to allow ground ambulances to stay in their communities more often.

The release said more funding will be made available to train medical first responders, who sometimes arrive at emergency scenes first.

Offering more places for care

The province said it will provide more support for new and existing collaborative family medicine practices to enable them to see more patients, and will expand health-care services at more pharmacies. Pharmacists will also soon be permitted to order some lab services.

More hours for virtual care will be added, and out-of-province doctors who are licensed in Nova Scotia will be permitted to offer virtual care.

More mobile primary care clinics and mobile respiratory care clinics will be made available, as well as urgent treatment centres.

A new phone app will be available by the end of March to help people find what health-care services are offered that meet their needs.


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