Antigonish surgeon warns red tape could lead to doctor burnout

A doctor in Antigonish, N.S., is calling for better collaboration to improve the locum system in Nova Scotia.

Dr. Lukas Wasserman is a general surgeon at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital. Ordinarily there are three surgeons on staff, but since March they’ve been down to two. That means Wasserman and his colleague take turns being on call every other weekend.

Where things get particularly difficult is when one of them wants to take time off for vacation. In those cases, Wasserman and his colleague have attempted to find locums — fully trained and practising doctors who can temporarily replace them — to cover their break, but that’s proved difficult. In the meantime, the surgeon who isn’t on vacation is left to cover the hospital until his colleague returns.

“That is incredibly hard to do, to be on call 24 hours a day for two weeks,” Wasserman said in an interview.

“But, it is something that we have to do. It is a privilege to work in this community. We really want to keep the service here. We know the patients need it and, although it’s hard, we just keep doing it.”

Wasserman said he started trying to find someone in April to cover his time off in July and later this month. When no one in Nova Scotia could be found, he advertised nationwide and received six responses from interested surgeons.

Challenged by ‘red tape’

But for a locum to come here from another province, they need to be licensed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, and Wasserman said the process has proved time-consuming enough that surgeons in Ontario and Saskatchewan who each agreed to come have been unable to get a licence in time.

“There’s an extensive amount of red tape to go through,” he said. “What ends up happening is they find something else.”

Dr. Gus Grant is registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Dr. Gus Grant, the college’s registrar, said he understands doctors’ frustrations. But he also noted that doing a locum is high-risk work because doctors are coming into a situation that’s new to them with patients they don’t know.

“I guess bureaucracy does get in the way, but it’s well-intended bureaucracy. We need to have due diligence. We need to ensure that the docs seeking to fill a locuming position, which is a high-risk type of medical practice, are appropriate for the task.”

Grant said once all the necessary paperwork is received, it’s a fairly quick process to approve a licence, but he conceded it can be difficult for doctors to get everything together. The process is something being examined nationally by the board of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, he said.

Seeking a streamlined system

“We are looking to find ways to streamline this to ease mobility of fully licensed physicians. It would be nice if we had an approach that allowed for trusted travellers, if you will.”

Wasserman said he understands the need to protect patients, and he isn’t advocating for the doors to be thrown wide open to just anyone to work in hospitals. But he said doctors who are already being stretched thin need to be able to take breaks without worrying about whether there will be service for their patients.

He’d like to see the college and the Nova Scotia Health Authority work together on the matter. In particular, he worries the health authority doesn’t appreciate the seriousness of the issue because it hasn’t interrupted service at St. Martha’s.

“We are keeping going, but burnout for physicians is a real problem.”

A spokesperson for the health authority said recruiters for the province support the service by helping match doctors who are interested in locum opportunities with departments that have current or future openings. The health authority also promotes locum opportunities as a way to introduce potential recruits to life in Nova Scotia.

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Young paddlers at Banook Canoe Club left high and dry by algae outbreak

Blue-green algae is keeping younger paddlers out of action at the Banook Canoe Club in Dartmouth, N.S.

On Tuesday, HRM issued a blue-green algae bloom risk advisory for Lake Banook and Lake Micmac advising people not to swim in either.

“We had prepared for this in case it did happen — and sure enough it did,” said Stephen Pottie, general manager of the Banook Canoe Club.

Reduced program for younger paddlers

Some types of algae produce toxins during blooms. When the blooms decay, the toxins can be released into the water posing a risk to people and pets.

HRM said lake users should wash with tap water as soon as possible after they come in contact with blue-green algae because there is a risk of illness.

Pottie said the paddling program at the Banook Canoe Club has been scaled back. The swimming program at the club has also been put on hold.

A bloom of blue-green algae as shown by researchers near Edmonton. (University of Alberta)

He said experienced paddlers, along with the club’s war canoe and dragon boat, are still able to go out on the lake.

Athletes who train at the club are also allowed to continue to paddle, he said, because “they’re not likely to tip” and they know to shower as soon as they’re out of the water.

Pottie said the precautions are meant to protect younger members and members at risk of falling into the water.

But he said the club has managed to make the best of the situation.

“We still have a summer camp going on,” Pottie said. “And the kids that were here were having fun, lots of smiles, lots of activity. I don’t think we missed a beat today.”

Pottie said he is expecting to hear an update on the status of the lake Thursday.

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Environment Minister didn't know extent of Tufts Cove oil spill until this week

Nova Scotia’s Environment Minister Margaret Miller offered only a mild rebuke to Nova Scotia Power for not letting her or her department know sooner the full extent of an oil spill at the utility’s generating plant in Dartmouth.

A company executive briefed reporters Tuesday afternoon at the Tufts Cove plant, not long after the company issued a news release detailing the full extent of the spill.

Until then, the focus had been on a 5,000 litre spill in and around Halifax harbour.

Mark Sidebottom, Nova Scotia Power’s chief operating officer, told reporters about two larger spills from the same source — 9,900 litres captured in a containment trench and another 9,400 litres nearby.

Miller doesn’t believe NSP tried to hide anything

“We found out at the same time it was made public,” Miller said Wednesday. “I can’t say that I feel good about that.”

But Miller made it clear she didn’t think the company had been trying to hide anything.

“I think as soon as the numbers were known that they made it clear to us,” she said.

She also offered a possible explanation.

“I’m making the assumption that it would have taken a while to get at that information and to make sure it was accurate cause they had to do a lot of retrieval.”

Company took 12 days to report extent of spill

Pressed about the fact it took the company 12 days to talk about the almost 20,000 litres spilled on its property, Miller said she wasn’t overly concerned.

“It would have been better if they could have made their predictions of how much had been spilled more accurately but you know I’m glad that, first of all, things are being contained,” she said.

“My concern … is in the cleanup. I imagine in days afterwards the assessment of what’s going on, the questions will be asked about why those numbers didn’t come forward, but at this point my concern is about the cleanup.”

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No talks to raise turbine in Bay of Fundy, says energy minister

While almost three weeks have passed since the majority shareholder of a test turbine in the Minas Passage filed for liquidation, the fate of the machine spinning at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy is still murky.

But the province’s energy minister insists there are no talks to raise the turbine.

Neither the energy minister nor representatives from the Fundy Ocean Research for Energy (FORCE) can say how long the turbine can sit on the sea floor unmonitored, but local fishermen want to see it removed as soon as possible.

While Derek Mombourquette has said the turbine can’t stay there indefinitely, he’s waiting for a contingency plan from the partners at Cape Sharp Tidal Venture before making any decisions.

The energy minister wouldn’t say how long the government is prepared to sit idle before demanding action.

“There are things we can do throughout the process, whether it’s issuing orders, we look at the licenses and we look at fines. We’re not there yet,” Mombourquette said.

The Cape Sharp Tidal turbine was lowered into the Minas Passage in November 2016. (Cape Sharp Tidal)

Cape Sharp Tidal was a joint effort with Irish company OpenHydro and Nova Scotia’s energy company, Emera Inc., to attempt to harness the power of the tides in the Bay of Fundy. Emera had a 20 per cent stake in the project.

On July 26 — two days after the turbine had been hooked up to the power grid — OpenHydro filed for liquidation after its parent company, Naval Energies, pulled funding. On Monday, Emera announced it was withdrawing from Cape Sharp Tidal.

The fate of the turbine now rests with Grant Thornton, liquidators for OpenHydro in Ireland.

Security fund for turbine retrieval

Mombourquette said as part of the process for applying for a berth in the Bay of Fundy, the companies would have posted a security in case a retrieval was necessary.

How much money that is, he wouldn’t say, citing “corporate sensitive information.”

“We would hold that in trust for them in the event … a retrieval needs to take place,” he said.

Tony Wright, general manager of FORCE, told CBC’s Information Morning that, as a research centre, they have little say in the fate of the turbine.

“Those who can make the decision to order the turbine removal is the province of Nova Scotia or DFO under the Fisheries Act,” Wright said.

“We’ll have to work with the receiver, understand what they want to do. It’s important to understand that the province is actually a decision-maker in this as well. They’ll have to approve the sale of the project.”

In theory, Wright said, one of the other four holders of berths in the Bay of Fundy could take over the project, but it would be up to the province to approve.

Workers walk past a turbine for the Cape Sharp Tidal project at the Pictou Shipyard in May 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

While Mombourquette shied away from the province’s responsibility to the project, he said despite Emera’s announcement to pull out, the company is still involved.

“The partners are still in play, so Emera is still a partner. They’re working with our staff,” he said.

“As we move down this path, we will continue to make decisions. But we have not got to the point of looking at retrieving the turbine.”

When asked what would happen if Emera was able to withdraw from the project, Mombourquette said he couldn’t comment on Emera’s future role in the project.

“But what I can comment on is that they are still partners in the project. As the regulator, we still have expectations that need to be met for the operation of the turbine.”

Environmental effects

Those expectations include environmental monitoring.

The turbine is subject to weekly monitoring, however it has been isolated from the power grid — meaning there is no power going to the monitoring equipment.

“I have indicated to all partners that this cannot go on indefinitely,” Mombourquette said.

“And that they need to respond to our request that it’s operating as intended and that environmental monitoring is in place and it needs to happen very soon.”​

While the turbine is not producing electricity, it is still spinning. The environmental effects of that are also unclear.

Fishermen in the area want to see the turbine brought up as soon as possible.

Colin Sproul is with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association. (CBC)

“There’s still a giant killing machine sitting on the sea floor of the Bay of Fundy with absolutely no environmental monitoring at this point,” Colin Sproul , vice-president with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, said on CBC’s Mainstreet.

“The chances of it hitting something are certainly much greater than not.”

But Sproul said he believes the provincial government is at the centre of “all of the problems in tidal energy development.”

$11 million on FORCE

“The Department of Energy has really abdicated their responsibility to protect Nova Scotians and to protect the environment,” Sproul said.

“When the Energy Minister, Mr. Mombourquette, said there is no public money tied up in this turbine, that’s an outright lie.”

While the province has not spent any money on Cape Sharp directly, it has spent $11 million on FORCE. Mombourquette said that included $7 million for infrastructure and $4 million for electrical upgrades to support all five tidal power projects in the area.

Cape Sharp, however, is the only company with a turbine in the water.

Wright said FORCE’s task, to inform decision-making about whether tidal power can be part of Nova Scotia’s energy future, will continue “with or without Cape Sharp.”​

Mombourquette believes there’s still a future for tidal power in the province, despite Naval Energies’ decision to abandon tidal energy altogether.

“They’ve made a decision to abandon tidal energy but we have a number of companies that have not,” he said.

“They’re still committed to enhancing their technologies, they’re still committed to working with FORCE and us as a province to unlock our potential to tidal power.”

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Canada's police chiefs to study recent spike in gun violence

Canada’s police chiefs say in light of recent gun-related tragedies in Fredericton and in other cities across the country they are striking a committee to analyze data related to gun violence.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which wrapped up its annual meeting today in Halifax, says it wants to come up with evidence-based recommendations to help combat the problem.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, the newly elected president of the association, says while gun violence “ebbs and flows” across the country, the chiefs believe there has been a spike in illegal firearm use over the past year.

Palmer says Canada’s current gun control regime is “actually very good” and the association is not calling for any wholesale legislative changes related to gun violence.

He says the issue isn’t law-abiding people who want to possess firearms, but rather people who are involved in criminal activity who obtain guns through illegal means.

Palmer says of particular concern is a resurgence of lower-level street gangs he says are becoming “quite violent.”

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Impaired driving charges for Lunenburg County man operating lawn tractor

Lunenburg District RCMP have arrested a suspect after receiving a report of a man operating a lawn tractor while impaired down the Grimm Road in First South, N.S., Tuesday night.

Police received a call about the man around 8 p.m. by a member of the public who suspected he was impaired.

A suspect, a 50-year-old man from First South, was arrested after failing a roadside test.

“[He] was then transported back to the detachment where breath samples were obtained that were approximately three times the legal limit,” said Sgt. David Ferguson.

“And as a result, that individual was held in custody and brought to court today to answer to charges.”

The man faces several charges including impaired operation of a motor vehicle and failing to comply with a probation order.

“You’re not allowed to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol regardless of the location,” said Ferguson. 

“However, the driving prohibition order, it specifies you’re not allowed to operate a motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or any public place.”

The man is scheduled to appear at Bridgewater provincial court on Sept. 5.

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Former school board members eager to join replacement body

Former Halifax Regional School Board members Gin Yee and Archy Beals believe the McNeil government was wrong to dissolve seven of Nova Scotia’s eight school boards last spring.

But both have applied to sit on the advisory body set up to guide education policy and advise the minister of education on spending.

“It was something I thought long and hard about and I wasn’t going to apply,” said Beals.

But, according to him, community support convinced him to change his mind.

“I think I have a lot to offer,” he said.

Decision to apply an easy one for Yee

Yee and Beals were both part of a 22-member team put together to smooth the transition between the dissolution of the boards and the creation of the new Provincial Advisory Council on Education.

For Yee, first elected to the Halifax board in 2004 and re-elected three times, the decision to apply for this new role was an easy one.

“I’ve enjoyed representing and serving and this is an opportunity to serve,” he said.

“I think school boards did excellent work but [I] also understand that they have the ultimate say on it so I personally have moved on.”

Twelve spots available to the public

The two men are among the 133 people who have applied for the 12 spots available to the public.

Three other seats will go to the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial — the last remaining school board — the Council on Mi’kmaq Education and the Council on African Canadian Education.  

Education Minister Zach Churchill is happy to see so many people are interested in helping shape the school system.

“I think people really care about the education system in the province,” he said. “I think it’s really exciting.”

Churchill is also encouraged that former board members want to be on the council.

Archy Beals is one of 22 members of a transitional team. (CBC)

“These folks bring valuable lived experience in their school systems in their regions and we’re looking for a wide variety of experiences and outlook so we can have different viewpoints to help us make decisions.”

‘It’s a good time to be involved’

“It’s a good time to be involved in the education system in Nova Scotia,” said Churchill. “We’re making a lot of critical changes.

“We’re making major investments and putting supports in place that are brand new to the system and folks involved in this group will actually help us in terms of moving forward and making these critical investments and policy decisions.”

Unlike school board members who could serve indefinitely, council members can only serve two terms, each two years long.

Churchill is hoping to have the council members chosen and the advisory body up and running by the end of September.

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N.S. highway workers awarded 'bittersweet' collective agreement after lengthy fight

After nearly four years locked in a labour dispute, about 1,000 provincial highway workers have a new collective agreement, but the union says Bill 148 has made it “bittersweet.”  

The deal, released Tuesday, follows one day of mediation between members of CUPE Local 1867 and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. The two sides have been in negotiations since November 2014.

In the meantime, the province signed the controversial Bill 148, which defines a wage package for public sector workers without a contract. Under the new legislation, there are no wage increases in the first and second year of Local 1867’s six-year agreement.

Increases retroactively apply as of Nov. 1, 2016, for a seven per cent increase over the course of the agreement. 

“The entire … outcome of this negotiation, as far as the union is concerned, is somewhat bittersweet because of the spectre of Bill 148 that loomed over the entire round of negotiations and truly took away what we would consider to be free collective bargaining,” said Peter Baxter, CUPE national representative and chief negotiator. 

Union asked for arbitration 

The agreement’s most important win, according to Baxter, is the move toward wage parity for mechanics and mobile service mechanics, which both received adjustments of $1.50 per hour.

The union was also able to keep a memorandum that deals with winter work, limiting the province’s ability to hire outside contractors, said Baxter. 

The new deal allows eligible workers to be paid the public service award early if they’ve been employed as of March 31, 2015. Bill 148, however, has removed the award for employees hired after that. 

The spectre of Bill 148 … loomed over the entire round of negotiations.– Peter Baxter, CUPE

The workers, who provide maintenance, construction and snow removal on Nova Scotia’s highways, do an essential service, said Baxter, but they don’t have the ability to strike under the Highway Workers Collective Bargaining Act. 

“Although we were able to add two years to the collective agreement in keeping with what’s now a pattern settlement, our membership would have much rather had the ability to put all of the issues before an arbitrator and hope to have sought a better outcome,” he said.

Province happy with decision

On Nov. 29, 2017, the union made a formal application that the matter go to arbitration. Arbitrator William Kaplan released his decision on Tuesday.

Mark Furey, Minister of Labour Relations, said the province welcomes the new collective agreement. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Minister of Labour Relations Mark Furey said he welcomes the decision.

“This is in line with other recent settlements, including all other civil service employees. We remain committed to meaningful collective bargaining with public sector employees, while reaching agreements that are affordable for taxpayers,” Furey said in a statement. 

CUPE is among several labour organizations that are challenging Bill 148 in court, but Baxter admits they have a long way to go. 

“These charter challenges can sometimes take up to a decade to resolve. So we don’t expect that there’s going to be any resolve on this any time soon,” he said. 

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Health officials warn of salmonella risk in frozen breaded chicken

The province’s chief medical officer is warning Nova Scotians of the risks of salmonella from eating frozen breaded chicken products, regardless of what company makes them.

Two cases of salmonella infection have been reported in Nova Scotia as an outbreak associated with the products spreads across the country. 

Two products have been pulled from shelves — No Name frozen chicken nuggets and unbranded chicken fries.

The nuggets were sold in 907-gram packages (UPC code 0 6038389685 0) and have an expiry date of May 15, 2019. The unbranded $10 chicken fries are sold in 1.81-kilogram bags with an expiry date of March 23, 2019. 

The products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased. 

Be careful, regardless of brand

But Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, says consumers should be careful with all frozen breaded chicken products, regardless of brand.

“Our key message to the public is that these products, some of them may be pre-cooked, some of them may not be cooked and be raw, but they all have an increased risk of having salmonella contamination,” he said.

There have been nine outbreaks of salmonella enteritidis​ associated with frozen breaded chicken products in Canada since May 2017. Strang said the increase is due to new, more advanced, methods of detecting salmonella.

Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang said people need to make sure they’re cooking the products properly. (CBC)

He said frozen breaded chicken products that haven’t been recalled are safe to eat as long as people follow the instructions on the box and cook the food properly. 

Salmonella is an intestinal infection transmitted by eating food from infected animals. Symptoms can include diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting.

Children, seniors and people with chronic health issues are most at risk, said Strang. 

“It’s something that needs to be taken seriously,” he said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working to create stricter rules for companies that make these products in an effort to reduce the risk of salmonella, said Strang. He expects those new rules to come into effect next year.

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