The holidays are upon us, and with a surge in respiratory illnesses and overburdened emergency departments — not to mention a storm bearing down on the province — residents are being reminded to “make the right call to access the right care.”

This includes knowing when to call 9-1-1.

The messaging was shared Thursday by Emergency Health Services (EHS) Operations, Nova Scotia Health (NSH), and the IWK Health Centre.

Red phone numbers against a black background with the words "Make the RIGHT call" running along the side is the messaging from EHS.

“Using the 9-1-1 system appropriately allows paramedic resources to be available in cases of medical emergencies that pose an immediate threat to life,” notes a media release sent by EHS.

“We encourage Nova Scotians to call 9-1-1 for medical or life-threatening emergencies.”

Life threatening emergencies include but aren’t limited to: stroke/facial awareness, new onset of weakness, heart attack/chest pain or tightness, an inability to wake/unconscious, seizure and/or head injury, and sudden onset of severe headache or confusion.

They can also include seizure and/or head injury, major assault, severe difficulty breathing or trouble speaking, uncontrolled or severe bleeding, major trauma (loss of a limb or laceration), severe allergic reaction, or severe burn.

More than 125,000 now without a primary care provider

For situations considered minor or non-urgent, people are advised to visit their health care provider (if they have one), to call 811, contact Virtual Care NS, or attend a walk-in clinic, urgent treatment centre, or temporary mobile primary care clinic if your community is close to one.

The most recent reporting from the province indicates that as of Dec. 1, there were 125,278 Nova Scotians (12.6% of the population ) without a primary care provider.

That number only includes those whose names are on the Need A Family Practice Registry and is up from the 124,409 Nova Scotians who were on the list as of Nov. 1.

Similar to the “what’s open/what’s closed” lists that pop up this time of year, what options are available if you’re in need of primary health care over the holidays but don’t have access to a provider?

Virtual Care NS extra appointment slots

To help with demand, Virtual Care NS has added a few additional virtual care appointment slots outside of the regular schedule.

A list of times signalling the regular schedule for virtual care. Virtual care is available Monday, 9am to 7pm, Tuesday to Friday 9am to 5 pm, and closed on weekends and holidays.
Regular Virtual Care NS schedule

Although typically closed on weekends and holidays and with set times Monday to Friday, additional virtual care appointments have been made available on the following dates:

Dec. 31 from 9am 1pm

Jan. 4 and 11 until 7pm

Jan. 7, 8, 14, and 15 from 9am to 5pm 

The Virtual Care NS program is available to anyone on the Need A Family Practice Registry. It is not an emergency service.

Go here to register or request a virtual visit.

Primary care clinics

Temporary mobile primary care clinics have popped up in several communities across the province over the last three months.

These clinics are not an emergency service and are instead intended to address non-urgent, low-acuity health issues.

These issues include: mild strains/sprains and mild headaches; earaches; sore throats; skin and eye irritations and minor respiratory issues and infections; urinary tract infections; cough/flu/cold symptoms; and prescription refills or renewals of non-controlled substances,

NSH is advising the next primary care clinic will be at the Cobequid Health Centre in Lower Sackville on Dec. 27 from 9am to 4:20pm and Dec. 30 from 9am to 4:20pm.

A mobile upper respiratory clinic in Antigonish designed to solely address non-urgent, low-acuity respiratory issues will next open on Dec. 29 from 5pm to 8pm in Antigonish Market Square.

In a media release earlier this week, NSH reported that in the last three months, more than 1,600 patients have been seen at these temporary clinics in Sydney, Antigonish, Digby, Weymouth, HRM (Mumford, Cobequid and Dartmouth), and Yarmouth.

NSH said more of these clinics are planned at locations throughout the province in the new year.

More information and a schedule of primary care clinics can be found here.

Round up of resources

Nova Scotians are reminded to never hesitate to visit an emergency department when experiencing an emergency.

For general health advice and information, call 811. The service is provided 24/7 by experienced registered nurses.

The Atlantic Canada Poison Centre can be reached by calling 1-800-565-8161 or via this link.

The provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line can also be reached 24/7 by calling 1-888-429-8167

Additional community-based resources (and information) about where to go for health care in each of the province’s health zones can also be found here.

“By using the care option that matches your medical need, EHS, NS Health, or the IWK can provide the right care, for the right patient, by the right provider, at the right time,” noted the media release sent by EHS on Thursday.

“These care pathways are based on best practices, research evidence and available options in your community.”

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor, covering the COVID-19 pandemic and health issues. Twitter @ydentremont

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