Opposition MLAs call for urgent action on Cape Breton hospital deaths

The hospital death ratio in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is alarming opposition MLAs who feel the province is failing to act. 

For the third straight year, hospitals in and around Sydney, N.S., recorded the highest death rate in the country, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

According to CIHI, nearly 50 per cent more patients in CBRM died than expected compared to the national average.

“It’s not a statistic, it’s not just numbers, these are human beings,” said New Democrat and Cape Breton Centre MLA Kendra Coombes. 

“These are lives. These are families. I think the sense of urgency should be very strong here … however, government hasn’t responded with investments in equipment and in staffing that are so badly needed, and that is the unfortunate part.” 

A member of the province’s standing committee on health, Coombes said the pandemic has proven government can act swiftly if there is political will. She said it is unacceptable that Cape Breton hospitals don’t have all the necessary resources to treat patients. 

New Democrat Kendra Coombes, MLA for Cape Breton Centre, says the recent findings from the Canadian Institute for Health Information are sad and unacceptable. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

“Our health care was already stressed before COVID-19 and COVID-19 shined a tremendous light on those stressors, but what it also showed was how fast governments will respond to a pandemic. And I think that kind of response needs to be rapidly employed in other forms of health care.”

Brian Comer, the MLA for for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg, said a thorough examination must be completed on the recent mortality data.

The Tory and registered nurse who worked at Sydney area hospitals said hospital staffing is a longstanding issue.

“You hear a lot about infrastructure, which is important, don’t get me wrong,”  said Comer. 

“You can have new buildings, but if you don’t have the proper staff, you know, to work in these buildings with the proper training — it’s just not really going to be too much good.”

A registered nurse, Brian Comer, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg, says staffing has long been an issue at hospitals in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Comer said the Nova Scotia Health Authority needs to listen to healthcare workers in determining what is needed.

“There’s nothing that could be any more urgent, in my opinion,” he said.

Progressive Conservative Party Leader Tim Houston issued a news release this week calling for an independent review. 

“We need a government who is willing to listen and learn from past failings,” Houston said in the release.

CBC News requested interviews with former health minister Randy Delorey and deputy health minister Kevin Orrell. Those requests were unfilled.

NSHA working to address mortality rate

Carla Adams, who speaks for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said following the 2018-19 data release, a “significant effort” was made to understand and take action on the findings.

“That review work got stalled as many of the people working on them were assigned work to support the organization’s response to COVID-19,” Adams said in an emailed statement. 

“That work is now concluding.”

Adams said the NSHA is committed to addressing its hospital mortality rates and will work with administrative, clinical and physician leaders in the Cape Breton area to develop action plans in areas that need improvement.

She said every region of the province has bent the curve on these ratios, except the eastern zone.

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