NDPs in Cape Breton are promising to keep a community hospital open, while the governing Liberals are planning to close it. After multiple emergency room closures in various areas of Nova Scotia during summer 2019, health care and its availability is becoming a crucial issue in three provincial by-elections.

“Every 20 doors you go to and ask people what is the key issue on their mind, 19 and a half of them say health care in one form or another,” says Nova Scotia NDP leader, Gary Burrill.

It's also a topic that's important to Capers 4 Health Care organizer, Gordon MacDonald, who has been advocating for better health care services. MacDonald says he's considering each party's plan on the matter as election time draws nearer.

“We want them to talk about ER closures and what's going on with the ERs here in Cape Breton,” says MacDonald. “We want to see them address the problems that the hospitals are having right across Cape Breton and the province.”

It’s an undeniable issue in the area, with Cape Breton Regional Hospital being the only emergency room offering services on Saturday and Sunday.

N.S. Premier, Stephen McNeil recently announced plans to replace hospitals in New Waterford and North Sydney with new health centres, but Burrill says his plan would keep community hospitals open.

“The long term recovery of people's strength after exacerbation of COPD, problems with diabetes… people who wait for nursing homes – these are the kinds of care community hospitals specialize in,” says Burrill.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says most of the closures are caused by the unavailability of doctors – a problem that has plagued province, particularly the Cape Breton region recently.

“We are still in a crisis,” says MacDonald. “And the only party that's saying we're in a crisis is the NDP.”

On Wednesday, the N.S. government announced $200,000 to help communities recruit and retain new doctors. Additionally, non-profit groups will be eligible to apply for up to $25,000 to display their areas to prospective doctors and their families.

Meanwhile, by-election campaigns in the region continue.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore