What do you do when you live in Cape Breton, you have a doctor shortage, two hospitals are slated to close, ERs are almost always closed, there is a chronic shortage of ambulances and the Minister of Health refuses to talk to you and your citizens group? You load into buses and travel 160 kms to close the causeway for an hour and march with 150 of your like minded fellow Capers. In a snow storm.
When that doesn’t seem to get his attention, and you learn he has plans to sneak in to town to meet behind closed doors with doctors and administrators, you request a meeting. When he ignores your request, you wait for him outside his scheduled meeting, and when he comes out, you politely confront him with your concerns and questions. And while he was obviously uncomfortable and didn’t appear to appreciate your intrusion, he didn’t run away. So you stand there for 15 minutes or so, going through your points, never really getting any answers beyond canned responses that provide no inside perspective or reassurances. That brief chat in the parking lot was supposed to be a prompt for the Minister to realize he should not continue hiding from the very people he is serving in his role. You hoped he would have a heart and start to react properly to the people who are scared and scarred by the ongoing health care crisis. Your concerns are valid, based on the health and welfare you have had to fight hard for, for your children, and for yourself. You may be emotional, and angry that you have been fighting for years now, without any positive results, but you have had enough experience being without a family doctor for four years, having consequentially undergone a complete hysterectomy due to the cancer you would have found early enough, if you had had the care available to you. You have watched your young son suffer health scare after health scare without answers for months due to the wait lists and unavailable resources. You have lived in panic over the medication you need for your child, but lack a prescription for that cannot be obtained from the walk-in. You have a good grasp on the system’s shortcomings and are well-versed on the wishes of the people, so you are able to relate them to him in a straightforward enough manner, but he is unable to give you any information, or ease the fears and stress impacting thousands of the island’s residents.
While you felt let down by your attempts to get the Minister to admit there are issues with his actions or that he needs to find out more about what the people are facing, maybe he could have made that little bit of effort to appear to be meeting you in the middle. He could have decided to set up a future meeting or a focus group to really dig into the issues openly and thoroughly with the public input being a major component. He could have recognized your organization as a stakeholder and included them as the public perspective in future dialogue.
Instead, he decided it would be better to send your co-chair an email, making grand claims about progress and enthusiasm, touting planning timelines that do not include any actual action, nor do they create comfort or reassurance for people who are sick today, without a doctor today, unreliable emergency care today and a shortage today that has no end in sight. His timelines refer to a year of review, before a plan or any ideas of steps are even formed. So two years, three years or more, before a proper system is imagined and then how long for it to function? Who knows?
In that email he also took time to misrepresent his discussion with you. If a third party were reading his email without any knowledge of the facts, they would assume he had an appointment set up with you, comfy chairs and a meeting room to sit in, and perhaps he had offered you a coffee. It would also appear to an outsider that you had a long and productive discussion that garnered development and resolutions on many of your concerns. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only was this email a month in the making, in response to your colleague’s attempts to set up a meeting with the Minister, but it was a blatant misrepresentation of the idea he had already met with you as a representative of your group. His error ridden recollection of those moments standing outside in the cold having a hasty conversation, where his answers were limited to “We are consulting with x on that”, “We are only in the planning stage on this” or “We don’t know yet” read like confusion on his part, as to what a meeting is, what an answer is and how he had provided neither. In the Minister’s email, he implied the questions were carefully and thoroughly considered and answered. He then went on to imply that you were unfair and deliberate in your attempts to disparage his good intentions in meeting you.
To refer to being ambushed on his way to his car as an “opportunity”, or the few minutes spent saying nothing as taking “time to respond to each question”, is just the same mastery of spin that has gotten us as a province into the mess we are in. If you had not been willing to stand there patiently waiting for him to come out of his closed door meeting, he never would have had to say “We don’t know”.
I know you have been fighting for healthcare improvements in Cape Breton for years. Your family has been heavily impacted by the doctor shortage, and you have been the frontline with others in your community. I know you get by on life experience and facts. Randy? Well, we could come to two conclusions on Randy. He is either A) Too far removed from the reality of the situation to realize what he says or does, let alone those he deals with and how he impacts them, or he is B) Just simply, and utterly dishonest.
From a non-Caper perspective, I feel pretty confident the government felt they could hit your region with major cuts and closures over the past few years, due to its distance from Halifax and the lack of Liberal votes. The further you live from the capital, the easier it seems to be to hit below the belt. It has happened in other areas at the far ends of the province, and distance continues to play an important role in decisions on all things in government. It is presented by government as curing redundancy, but they fail to admit they are just slashing and cutting where they can without taking those cuts to the constituencies where they are elected. There may be long-term gains, but they haven’t even been envisioned at this point, even though they have already announced closures. It is a chaotic and troubling mess to close down services without a readily available replacement.
The normal and appropriate way to go about this, would have been to have the plan in action, construction and a timeline on completion in place, before announcing closures. The consulting for a year? And planning after? That takes us closer to the next election, when there will be big promises and pending improvements determined by the votes. So there we have it. They do not have to do anything for a couple of years, and even then it will be a lot of talk they do not have to commit to, unless another Liberal Government is elected. In the meantime, with services unavailable, ERs in dark mode, and thousands not even able to get a referral for anything requiring a specialist consultation without a family doctor, the anger and anxiety continue to rise for Cape Bretoners. Health concerns that could be dealt with now, will fester for months, even years, eventually becoming a threat to survival. And urgent health issues could be exacerbated by longer distances to ERs delayed by waits for ambulance. There are so many ways this could be dealt with more appropriately.
I have been and will continue to think about you and your family Lisa, in these months to come, and about all my fellow Nova Scotians who are inconvenienced to grave degrees when it comes to their basic right to healthcare. As we face the continued upheaval of health services in this province, I hope we all come out of this turmoil stronger and able to appreciate better what we have before we lose it completely. My heart is heavy thinking of so many people across this province not able to do the best thing for themselves, just because of poor planning and no timelines or deadlines in mind. Keep fighting for what is right. I am right there with you.
Your friend and supporter,