A Halifax-area woman is sounding the alarm over what she says is a new low for Nova Scotia’s health-care system.

Melisa Simpson says her father, who is battling cancer, went to the ER in Lower Sackville Friday evening, but was turned away because it was too busy.

“I thought it was appalling that someone as sick as my dad would be turned away,” says Simpson.

Her father was diagnosed with cancer late last year and doctors installed a feeding tube a week ago. His family noticed swelling in his foot Friday evening. Concerned it may have been the result of a blood clot, they headed to the ER at the Cobequid Community Health Centre.

“He did see a doctor for about five minutes, but they had no technicians to run any tests on him to see if he had a blood clot, so it was basically like, if you feel worse, come back in the morning,” Simpson says of the two-hour visit.

Instead of being treated, he was sent home with a pink note saying he had been assessed by an emergency nurse, and that it was determined his condition was “not immediately life threatening.”

The note also stated that the emergency room was “over capacity” and had reached the limit of patients it could manage and treat before closing at midnight.

Simpson says that explanation simply isn’t acceptable, and it speaks to the state of health care in the province.

“It is abysmal. You know, there’s not enough nurses, there’s not enough doctors. The ones that are there are run off their feet,” she says.

Frustrated and angry, Simpson posted a photo of the note on social media. She was stunned when it went viral, with hundreds of people sharing her post and their own stories.

“You know, something needs to change because they’re just looking at a bunch of lawsuits if they keep treating patients this way,” she says.

The president of the Nova Scotia Government and Employees Union, which represents about 10,000 health-care workers in the province, says the incident proves members are overworked and overwhelmed.

“What we’ve been saying is, it’s just overwhelming in any emergency department, and proof is here with the pink tickets that everybody is getting,” says Jason MacLean.

“It’s making people second-guess themselves, like, should I go there? Will I be there a long time? Will I get sent away?”

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says the pink notes have been standard practice for almost three years. Officials say it was developed with a patient-centred approach in order to safely manage patient volumes and to ensure the most acute patients have the opportunity to receive a physician assessment.

The health authority insists the triage method is effective and transportation to another emergency department is arranged for patients who need immediate care, which they say is preferable to turning patients away.

As for Simpson, she says her primary focus remains on her father and his care.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Bruce Frisko