After hearing many stories of the troubles to find a family doctor in Nova Scotia, one woman has now received the call after a two-year wait.
Although relieved to no longer be one of the more than 150,000 names on the Need a Family Practice Registry, she says it doesn’t make the worry go away.
“The waitlist is a big, big problem,” says Shira Lurie. “The burden and the burnout on our health-care workers is a big, big problem.”
When the assistant professor at Saint Mary’s University moved to Nova Scotia, her top priority was putting her name on the doctor waitlist.
Lurie has lived in the United States and Ontario and says she has never faced such barriers.
“When people ask me how is living in Nova Scotia? How do you like it? I say the people are great, the beaches are great, I love so many things about it,” she says. “But I’m so, so anxious about the health-care situation.”
Lurie has a chronic illness and is immunocompromised. The last few years have been tough, forcing her to rely on her specialist along with walk-in clinics and telehealth services.
“The last thing you want to do when you feel sick or have some kind of healthcare issue is to look up a walk-in clinic,” she says. “To go there and wait in a long line before the clinic opens and sit in a waiting room with people coughing.”
Lurie has been keeping a close watch for any updates since adding her name to the registry. When the province announced in June it was revamping the list to allow patients to add their health history, she immediately filled out the questionnaire.
When a recent email came in notifying her of an opening, she responded within minutes. Despite the relief, she still has concerns.
“The person that I was paired with is a man and I would prefer a woman to be my primary-care physician,” Lurie says.
As someone with compromised immunity, she’s also worried about protection from COVID-19 for herself and the community.
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“When I called the clinic to set up the appointment they told me they’re no longer masking in their clinic. They don’t have HEPA filters or anything to clean the indoor air, and that’s a huge concern for me,” Lurie says.
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Although happy to finally have a doctor, Lurie says she feels “stuck” and powerless to advocate for the kind of care that she wants.
Lurie also worries about other Nova Scotians who might not have the same opportunities to check if a doctor has been found for them.
“I can imagine for people coming here who don’t speak the language, who haven’t heard of the Need a Family Practice, who don’t have regular access to email, who don’t have regular access to the internet, there is simply no way that they are going to be getting off this list — if they’re ever able to get on it,” she says.
In a statement, the Department of Health and Wellness says 26 doctors have signed up since June for a new incentive which offers them $10,000 if they take 50 of the highest needs patients off the registry. That has resulted in more than 1,300 patients and their family members being removed from the list.
“These are patients with the highest needs who are now getting the specialized care they need,” the statement says. “The deadline to apply for this incentive is Oct. 31. We have heard from more interested physicians and (are) confident more will apply before the deadline.”
Meantime, Nova Scotia Health is working with the Department of Health and Wellness to confirm the accuracy of the Need a Family Practice Registry.
“We have identified a group of 17,500 people who appear to be connected to a primary care provider, and Nova Scotia Health staff are calling them to verify this,” spokesperson Brendan Elliott said in an email. “Our goal is to complete these calls and update public reports with the new information by Aug. 31.”
Lurie says this might be a good news story for her, but it’s also a reminder of the challenges many are facing as they navigate an over-burdened health-care system.
“It feels like the system is failing all around you,” she says.
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