Alan Ross spent six hours in the emergency room after suffering from chest pains.
He finally left the hospital in Truro without seeing a doctor, praying his pain was nothing serious. For Ross, this was the new reality after his family doctor retired last December with no-one to replace her.
“It makes me feel very frustrated and angry,” said Ross. “I’m 68 years old. I’ve worked my whole life and paid into the system with taxes. The government has promised healthcare but not provided it.”
His experience earlier this month prompted him to join a signpost campaign from his North River home. His home is one of a growing number who have signs on their lawns indicating their lack of a family doctor.
“When the walk-in clinic in Bible Hill closed, I was devastated. I feel like I’m living in a Third World country.”
Some people have lacked a family doctor for years, such as Ross’s niece Carolyn Scott, who lives in Bible Hill. She voluntarily dropped her family doctor about four years ago, saying he did not provide adequate care for a kidney complaint.
Scott then used the walk-in clinic in Bible Hill, whose doctors helped her deal with chronic kidney and bladder problems. She also has migraines and diverticulosis.
But the Bible Hill clinic closed earlier this year, due to a shortage of doctors.
“When the walk-in clinic in Bible Hill closed, I was devastated,” said Scott, fighting back tears. “I feel like I’m living in a Third World country.”
But the province-wide campaign for more family doctors is gathering steam on social media. A Facebook group called ‘Nova Scotia Health Care in Crisis – Time to Protest’ is gathering people’s stories and calling for protests.
“I am in the Valley and 18,000 people just lost their family doctor in June and I am one of them,” said protest organizer Leslie Tilley in a Facebook message on Oct. 24. “We have a severe crisis on our hands.”
For Tilley, the healthcare crisis went beyond doctors. She said the Kentville hospital can work at up to 110 per cent capacity, but on March 6 of this year they were at 557 per cent.
“I don't need a doctor for much, but anyone of all the citizens of NS could be diagnosed with a terminal illness,” said Tilley. “We are all coping until something goes wrong, that is what scares me the most.”
Ross echoed Tilley’s point, saying a lack of doctors can cost lives if patients cannot get a timely diagnosis.
His only options remain hospital emergency rooms or Truro’s one remaining walk-in clinic.
The clinic, at 68 Robie St., in Truro, limits patients to one issue per appointment, with a 10-minute time limit.
And his recent visit to the Truro emergency room brought home the reality of Nova Scotia’s doctor shortage.
“Most of (the other patients) were in worse shape than me, some in wheelchairs and oxygen masks,” said Ross. “The ER is so backed up it’s almost impossible to get in there.”
Like many Nova Scotians without a family doctor, both Ross and Scott have signed up for one with the province’s 811 service.
But Scott said 811 staff informed her they had no documentation of her being on the list since April 2018.
“That made me really angry,” she said.
People needing a family doctor can call 811 or visit https://needafamilypractice.nshealth.ca.