Women take it on themselves to confront healthcare crisis

Citizen activists Leslie Tilley and Joan Hawkin

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead

LESLIE TILLEY DIDN’T ASK “WHAT’S THE POINT.” Neither did any of the six friends who travelled with her. The point was they couldn’t just sit at home and pretend there was no healthcare crisis in Nova Scotia. So they drove the 130 km up to Halifax, from their homes down the Annapolis Valley, to demonstrate in front of the provincial legislature March 3. The numbers didn’t matter to them.

What mattered was just being there: putting yourself out, leaving your comfort zone to agitate for something important to you. Staying home. Doing nothing. Leaving it to others. None of that was an option.

Taking direct action

It stopped being an option for all of them when their friend Leslie Tilley founded the Nova Scotia Healthcare Crisis Group, based in the tiny village of Aylesford, Nova Scotia and they all joined in.

The group has two main objectives: first, to get the provincial government to publicly acknowledge that Nova Scotia is in the grip of a healthcare crisis; second, get the government to fix it. The group now has 9,424 members.

The group has repeatedly asked for a meeting with Premier Stephen McNeil—but without success. Representatives of the group did meet with Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey. But want to meet again because they don’t think Delorey "got the message."

Joan Hawkin says the point of asking for more meetings and the sidewalk rally is “to let all the political parties, especially the governing Liberals, know that they’re not going away.”

Joan points out the group reflects the concerns of thousands of Nova Scotians whose real life experiences give a shocking picture of the depth of the healthcare crisis. She said the stories shared on the group’s Facebook page are “horrendous.”

Systemic failure

Group members are worried because so many can’t get a family doctor and, even when you can, how long it can take to get an appointment. Joan said it can take her several weeks to a month to get an appointment with her doctor but she doesn’t blame him. She believes it’s a systemic failure.

Joan questions whether or not the province is telling the whole story when it comes   to reporting the real numbers on how many Nova Scotians do not have a family doctor. Many people without doctors report that they haven’t had their names added to the wait list.

“To me, that’s not reasonable access to health care,” she says.

Joan says her group would like to have an opportunity to make suggestions or recommendations to government about actions that could be taken to improve the situation.

“First of all, it would be nice if they would acknowledge that there is a crisis,” she said.

The Healthcare Crisis Group has no political ax to grind. Joan points out that the crisis in the Nova Scotia healthcare system didn’t develop overnight. The Progressive Conservatives, NDP and Liberals have all contributed to the crisis, she says. “There’s plenty of blame to go around.”

“We need transparency, we need accountability, we need to know where our tax dollars are being spent, and we don’t know,” she said.

“We need feet to the street,” says Joan.

Update: A win—kinda

The provincial government announced, in late March, support for community action to find and attract more doctors to the Annapolis Valley. The support will go to two bureaucracies: $20,000 to a committee of the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce and $10,000 to a program run by the Town of Middleton.

The actions and suggestions of Leslie Tilley and all the citizen activists in the Nova Scotia Healthcare Crisis Group were ignored.

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