Dunn: health care system failing those who need it most

August 22, 2016 at 9:51 am

Premier, Health Minister must answer to those suffering due to doctor shortage

Pat Dunn

PICTOU, NS – Pain is a constant fact of life for Alexander MacMillan. Unfortunately, so is a failing health care system.

“I’m falling through the cracks and no one seems to care,” says MacMillan. “I live in daily pain and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. I’m frustrated and angry, but unfortunately I have earned a right to be.”

Nearly a decade ago, shoulder pain sent MacMillan, who was a successful chef, to his family doctor. He was told he had arthritis and was prescribed a strong-acting pain medication. Eventually, MacMillan’s condition deteriorated to point that he required orthopaedic surgery. Nonetheless, he remained in constant pain.

The pain, and the pain management, continued to be a part of his daily life until this past February when MacMillan found himself without a family doctor. Since then, further medical concerns have developed, including extreme lower back and hip pain, numbness and loss of sensation from his hip down his leg. His mobility and physical capability have been left severely limited.

Having no one to look into his serious health condition, MacMillan was left unable to work and lost his source of income. Since February, the source of his spinal and hip pain have not been determined, nor been effectively treated, and he has no hope in sight for receiving help. Instead, he is forced to rely on walk-in clinics or the emergency room to provide help when his suffering becomes unbearable – all the while knowing that the best anyone is willing to offer him is temporary pain relief, no answers.

This isn’t the life he wants for himself.

“I want to be pain free, but that doesn’t mean I want to live my life on pain medication,” says MacMillan. “There is a big difference.”

MacMillan’s son Zachary says his father is trapped in a vicious cycle. He says the health care system is failing his dad and that he deserves better.

“He’s a real person and he’s trapped in this cycle of pain and discrimination,” he says. “My father deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We want to get to the root cause of his pain and not just be forced to go to the ER.”

The family says that medical professionals who see MacMillan at the ER or the walk-in clinic are unable to order tests or procedures to determine what is actually causing the pain, telling him that this is the responsibility of a family doctor. Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn, who has been helping the family, says this is a sad reality when there is a lack of family doctors.

“How can this be happening?” asks Dunn. “The Premier and Health Minister continue to say everything is fine. How can the health system just stand by and watch as this man and his family suffer? I am shocked by the lack of empathy shown towards Mr. MacMillan. This is the cruel reality of not having a family doctor.”

Zachary MacMillan says medical professionals have unjustly accused his father of being a troublesome patient and stated that even if the family doctor crisis were to improve, he is unlikely to find one that will ever take him on because of his medical and prescription history. While the family have met with numerous members of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, they too failed to provide a reasonable solution to the pressing situation.

“I can’t describe what this has done to my father and my family,” says Zachary MacMillan. “Not only does he live in constant pain, but he lives with the shame and humiliation caused by how he is treated by the system. Some have said that no one would touch him with a ten foot pole. How can our medical system just turn their backs?”

Simply put, MacMillan needs a family doctor to help him with recovery and healing. His frequent trips to the ER and walk-in clinic are his only viable option for receiving any form of health care, but his son says no one is monitoring his father’s overall health, such as his alarmingly high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In addition to this, the family says they receive daily phone calls from bill collectors threatening to discontinue services, all the while trying to make due on social assistance.

“This is devastating,” says Zachary MacMillan. “My father’s quality of life has completely disintegrated and this has financially ruined him. He needs a family doctor to help him get his life back on track.”

Dunn says he will continue to advocate for the MacMillan family. “The Premier needs to understand this is happening and fix it.”