Health Minister Michelle Thompson has promised the family of Allison Holthoff they will receive the results of a “quality review,” which is normally completed within 90 days.

Holthoff died Dec. 31 after a nearly seven-hour wait to be seen by a doctor at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre.

Quality reviews are triggered when a patient dies unexpectedly or suffers severe harm. So far, despite enormous public concern, the minister has made no commitment to release the results of this review to the public. The Halifax Examiner asked Nova Scotia Health if the committee carrying out the review would include a person located outside of Nova Scotia Health*. The answer is yes. Here is the email response received from Carla Adams, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia Health: 

The quality review will include operational, medical, and quality team members. The specific names of those involved in the quality review are not identified. Co-leads include an external to NS Health resource expert in Canadian Quality and Emergency Department processes.”

A white woman with brown hair and brown eyes.
Allison Holthoff Credit: Facebook

Liberal caucus calls for emergency session of legislature

Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia Liberal Caucus is calling for an emergency session of the legislature to discuss the state of emergency health services after the deaths of Holthoff and another woman who sought care at another emergency department.

Sixty-seven-year-old Charlene Snow died on Dec. 30, one hour after leaving the emergency department at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital where, according to her daughter-in-law, Katherine Snow, she waited seven hours without being treated. 

In a news release Friday, Liberal leader Zach Churchill and shadow health critic Brendan Maguire said these stories “highlight a failure of the Houston government to provide emergency services when Nova Scotians need them most:”

In the past, Premier Houston has called an emergency session of the legislature to debate MLA pay raises and said he is prepared to do the same to intervene in the independent Utility and Review Board process (around power rates). The real emergency facing Nova Scotians is the one in our healthcare system and it deserves the full attention of this government.

In response, Premier Houston issued this statement late Friday afternoon: 

We have heard the public statement from the Leader of the Opposition and are disappointed that Mr. Churchill seems more interested in playing political games around this tragedy than offering constructive ideas to address the healthcare situation in the province. 

The challenges facing our healthcare sector are real. Our complete focus is on delivering improvements to the healthcare system and providing assurances to all Nova Scotians that they can count on a healthcare system when and where they need it.   

This work should be above politics and good ideas can come from anywhere. Given that Zach Churchill is a former Health Minister who played a key role in creating the health care status quo, we would welcome his ideas from that experience.  He has our number.  Anything more than that is just grandstanding. 

Calls for an inquiry

Earlier this week, NDP leader Claudia Chender called on the Houston government to launch an inquiry into emergency department deaths. Through a freedom of information request, the NDP learned there were 558 deaths in emergency departments in 2022, a statistic that is higher than in the past five years. According to Nova Scotia Health, the number of deaths is not inconsistent with previous years and represents less than 1% of the 500,000 patient visits to emergency departments.   

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the independent MLA for the Amherst area, has begged the province to act immediately to deal with the makeshift emergency department at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre after a flood forced its relocation last May.  

The move has left patients sitting in a waiting room where nurses are unable to see or watch them from their nursing station. There are also so many vacant nursing positions at this regional hospital that for a short time last month, the ICU had to close temporarily. McCrossin, a former nurse, has sent the Houston government a seven-point action plan and is asking constituents to email the premier and health minister to demand action. 

Many smaller hospitals don’t have the staff to remain open on weekends. In 2022, emergency departments were closed 11% of the time, which means larger regional hospitals in Amherst, Truro, Kentville, and Yarmouth are coping with higher volumes of patients. 

* As initially published, this article incorrectly said the outside expert would be from “outside the province.” Correctly, the outside expert will not be associated with Nova Scotia Health.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Sources tell me the undisclosed names of the quality-reviewers are Buddy, Lola and Max. They are two extremely intelligent cocker spaniels and an eager-to-please duck tolling retriever. Woof!

  2. Liberals complaining about a health service that was in crisis when Liberals were in power and Zach Churchill was in the cabinet that caused the deaths of 52 people in Northwood because the the government refused to fund 3 requests from Northwood to alleviate the concerns raised by the board, a board that included members appointed by the McNeil cabinet.
    The crisis was predicted more than 10 years ago.