South Shore doctor shortage tests patience

The Chronical Herald
http://thechronicleherald.ca

BRIDGEWATER — It’s a beautiful, spring-like day in Bridgewater. The warm sun melts the icicles left by Friday night’s snowfall, but Doug Wilneff is staying in. He has the sniffles and doesn’t want to risk getting sick, because he has no doctor.

His wife Sheila has the hours of the evening walk-in clinic at the local hospital written in the front of the phone book, just in case.

“That’s the only alternative we have at the moment, the walk-in clinic. It’s our only option,” said Mr. Wilneff, who at 67 needs ongoing tests and medications for heart bypass surgery he had nearly eight years ago.

“They don’t know our history. It’s fine to get medications refilled because I’ve already been using them for so long, but I need tests every so often and there’s no continuity of care.”

And if there are a lot of patients, there’s no guarantee they’ll get in before it closes, even after waiting a couple of hours.

Mr. Wilneff is one of an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 patients on the South Shore who don’t have a doctor. He has worked for the Progressive Conservative party his whole life, as did his father before him, but Mr. Wilneff said he has no qualms about taking his party to task for the state of the health-care system in Nova Scotia.

“I’m doing it,” he said. He has voiced his concerns to his MLA, Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, and directly to Health Minister Chris d’Entremont in a face-to-face chat last week, but he doesn’t know if that’ll do any good.

“I don’t know what to do next,” he said Sunday, but he won’t let his partisan politics get in the way of taking a stand. “When things touch you personally and you’re not getting a response from your own party, what do you do?”

Kevin McNamara, chief executive officer of the South Shore district health authority, said last week he is encouraged by interest expressed in the community by several family physicians.

He said five doctors have shown serious interest in moving to the area and while none have signed any contracts yet, he is hopeful they will.

There are 100 doctors serving the entire district, but that includes specialists and physicians who only work part time. Mr. McNamara said the district could do with two to three doctors immediately, but must also plan for pending retirements.

Those signed contracts can’t come soon enough for the Wilneffs. Mrs. Wilneff’s 83-year-old mother needs a doctor and she had to take her to the emergency department one day. Seven hours later, they finally saw a doctor.

The couple has phoned every doctor in Bridgewater and Lunenburg since their own physician fell ill and none were taking new patients.

“There’s no list you can get on,” said Mrs. Wilneff, who even called a doctor who is expanding his practice by taking over patients of a physician who is leaving. “He won’t put us on a list.”

The couple went on the Health Department’s website hoping to find a doctor listed there, but it had none for the immediate or surrounding communities.

Mrs. Wilneff said she was surprised to see the department doesn’t list Bridgewater as a community in need of doctors.

One Bridgewater physician gave Mrs. Wilneff the Health Department’s physician information line, but when she called it, the mailbox was full and she couldn’t leave a message. She called the alternative number and left a message, but no one got back to her.

One of the Health Department’s tips for finding a doctor is to speak with people in the community and call around to physicians.

“I already went through all that,” she said. “I wanted some help.”
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