Only half of the chairs in the auditorium were filled for a health care rally in Shelburne where people were asked to voice their concerns about health care accessibility in the community.
But while the room might not have been full, the passion of the 100-plus participants was strong.
At the Nov. 5 rally were people who are waiting to access healthcare, people who don’t have physicians and those who have faced emergencies during times of closures coupled with the expectation to travel over 250 kilometres return for medical services.
One of the issues that sparked the rally was the increasing amount of closures of the Roseway Hospital emergency department.
“No one can predict when we will have an emergency,” said Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall. “The ER should be open 24/7.”
The goal of the rally was to hear the stories of Shelburne County residents and to collect video interviews, written accounts and petition signatures to forward on to the Nova Scotia government.
“Every government has had a hand in the demise of the system,” said Mattatall. “Not just one.”
Shelburne resident Mary Ayer was first to approach the podium.
“When I look at today and the health services we have lost over the years it makes me want to cry,” she said.
A nurse from Roseway Manor stood up to say how stressful it is when the adjoining ER is closed.
“There are 66 seniors at the manor,” she said. She said it’s embarrassing that the ER closes even a few hours, let alone weekends at a time.
Richard Deschene, a member of the community, stood up to speak about the importance of the emergency department remaining open at all hours. If a rape or domestic assault occurred it would be unlikely that that person would go further to Yarmouth or Bridgewater to find treatment, he said.
“Vital forensic evidence would be lost,” he said. “As well, they would miss out on getting the social supports they need, like therapy.”
People also heard from those in the emergency services, including Shelburne Volunteer Fire Department fire chief Darrell Locke.
“When you call us you are not calling to have a cup of coffee,” he said. “You are not having a good day.”
He said there have been times when they’ve had to wait for an ambulance to travel from Liverpool to Shelburne. During an emergency department closure such a situation would be made even worse, he said.
“We have something in our business we call the golden hour,” he said.
He pointed out that often if you see an ambulance parked in either the Sable River or Clyde River carpool lot it is because that ambulance is covering both Liverpool and Shelburne or Barrington and Shelburne communities.
He said Premier Stephen McNeil does not know what it’s like to not have continuous coverage to emergency services.
“For him to sit in his palace in Halifax and tell us what it’s like in Shelburne . . . ” he said that wasn’t fair.
“We are Canadians, not second class citizens, we have a right to access,” added Mattatall.
Jennifer Young got up to speak with her infant daughter and toddler son, both who have had detrimental encounters with the lack of local services.
Her son had a febrile seizure over the Thanksgiving weekend during which the emergency department was closed most of the weekend. He had to have ice poured over him to bring down his fever.
Young also talked about the birth of her baby and how all women are expected to drive an hour to go to prenatal appointments and to deliver their babies.
“We were flying to the hospital while my husband was YouTubing how to deliver a baby,” she said.
“Health is the most important thing we have,” added her husband Nolan Young.
Another to speak was Shelburne resident Sue Renaud, who said her husband might have Parkinson’s disease.
“We don’t know because we have been waiting for 18 months to see a doctor,” she said. “It’s not even unacceptable anymore, it’s embarrassing.”
A representative from the Shelburne shipyard stood up to say there were concerns about workplace injuries with the heavy machinery during emergency department closures.
Now that the rally has taken place, the next step for the town will be to create a video by local producer and filmmaker Rob Stork and to push it out to the province, and also to other rural communities facing similar issues, so that peoples’ voices can be heard.
“This is the only way to affect change,” said Mattatall.