Middleton mayor calls for change after patient death at Soldiers Memorial Hospital

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Local officials in Middleton, NS, are calling on the provincial government to improve emergency services at Soldiers Memorial Hospital after a recent patient death.

Paramedics and firefighters responded to a call about a patient in cardiac arrest last Thursday while the doctor on call wasn’t on site.

Town officials say it’s a symptom of a failing system, but the health authority says staff followed the normal process.

In a letter to Premier Tim Houston on Monday that was forwarded to CBC, Middleton Mayor Sylvester Atkinson writes that members of the Middleton Fire Department who were paged to Soldiers Memorial assumed it was for a patient who arrived after the emergency department was closed for the night .

Instead, upon arrival they learned they were being called to help a patient who was already admitted and that a doctor was on the way from Kentville, NS

‘I find this very concerning’

Firefighters assisted paramedics with chest compressions on the patient and continued lifesaving measures until the doctor arrived, Atkinson wrote, but the patient did not survive. In Middleton, the fire department responds to all cardiac arrest calls.

“Our Middleton Fire Department, which is a volunteer municipal service, should not be called to a hospital to provide medical aid to an admitted inpatient,” Atkinson wrote.

“A hospital is where people go to receive medical treatment from health care professionals who work there — not volunteer firefighters.”

Scott Veinot, deputy chief of the fire department, raised the issue in a letter to Middleton town council last Friday.

“I find this very concerning to know that not only is our emergency department failing our community, now our inpatients are at risk with no doctor providing coverage to the medical floor. Is this a new normal for Soldiers Memorial Hospital?”

Staff followed proper process: NS Health

An official with Nova Scotia Health offered condolences to the patient’s family, but said that despite the tragic outcome the staff at the hospital followed the proper procedure.

Darlene Davis is the interim executive director of rural and community health for the health authority’s western zone. She said normal protocol at community hospitals when the on-call doctor is off site is for staff to call the doctor and then 911 if they feel they need help while awaiting the doctor’s arrival.

Davis said it’s up to emergency dispatchers to determine which responders are sent to a call, but said it is not uncommon for paramedics to attend community hospitals for an emergency.

“We have done a review today and in our review we did not see anything that was outside of the normal process, so there won’t be any further investigation required,” said Davis.

“The staff were exceptional. They did a great job that night.”

The emergency department at Soldiers Memorial has operated on reduced hours for the last year because of a lack of doctors. Nova Scotia Health officials told a community meeting earlier this year in Middleton that it would take five to seven doctors to restore 24/7 service and that recruitment efforts are continuing.

Meanwhile, people needing emergency services when the emergency department in Middleton is closed needing to travel to the regional hospitals in Kentville or Yarmouth, NS, or the emergency department in Digby, NS.

Carman Kerr, the Liberal MLA for Annapolis, said officials from the provincial government and Nova Scotia Health are failing the community.

‘A heart breaking story’

Although it’s not a reflection on the staff working at the hospital, Kerr said, people should be concerned about the level of care available at Soldiers Memorial.

“I’ve got so many concerns with this government saying they were going to fix health care to what we’re seeing here on the ground,” he said.

“To have a patient pass away and not have access to timely medical care — being asked to wait for volunteers or EHS to come into the building, I just don’t understand it and I don’t accept it.”

In a phone interview, Premier Tim Houston said he saw the mayor’s letter for the first time on Tuesday and he’s awaiting further information.

“We know there are challenges in the health-care system,” he said.

“We know there’s a lot of work to do and nobody wants to hear about adverse outcomes. It’s a heartbreaking story.”