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Nova Scotia paramedics key to ER nurse shortage

SHEET HARBOUR, Nova Scotia A rural hospital struggling with a shortage of emergency-room nurses is relying on paramedics to help out.

The Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital in Sheet Harbour will have only one registered nurse and one licensed practical nurse on shift. But when demand is up, paramedics stationed down the road will respond.

"It's just a sign of the pressure that we're under," said Sheila Martin of the Capital District Health Authority, which oversees the hospital.

So when paramedics get a call, the hospital could be the scene of that emergency.

"It may be where their responsibilities lie on that particular day because they don't have responsibilities somewhere else," said Martin.

Emergency Health Services refused a request from the health district to station paramedics inside Eastern Shore Memorial, citing fears about staff burnout and the need to respond to emergencies outside the hospital.

"We see this as a stop-gap measure," said Terence Hawco of Emergency Health Services.

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, agreed, saying the union only agreed to the solution so the emergency department would not have to close.

"We expect them to continue to look for nurses to fill the vacancies in those positions," Hazelton said.

Dr. Don Pugsley, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said patients will be fine, but doctors can't be replaced by nurses and nurses can't be replaced by paramedics.

Every summer, hospitals around the province struggle to keep emergency departments open. A shortage of doctors in Digby is forcing its hospital to close its emergency unit every weekday in July.

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