The summer months are usually accompanied with long and frequent scheduled closures at hospital emergency rooms in many small communities and for some, traveling farther for care is not only a safety issue, it also raises concerns about the long-term future of the smaller ERs.

The emergency room at North Sydney’s Northside General Hospital is closed this week and in two weeks it will shut down for another seven days.

These rotating closures are scheduled and patients are given over a month’s notice, but nevertheless, the closures are still causing some to lose faith in local health care.  

“It’s gonna become an old people’s home,” says North Sydney resident David Watts. “They already have two floors up there now with old people in them and eventually, that’s what it’s gonna become. Same in New Waterford.”

Other residents say they’ve given up on their nearest ERs and simply go straight to more central facilities. The MLA for the Northside area thinks that might explain why he is receiving few complaints about local closures.

“The NDP campaigned on keeping ERs open 24/7 and here on the Northside, that’s not the case,” says Eddie Orrell. “The problem is, I think people on the Northside are getting desensitised to the fact their ER is closed.”

Officials with the Cape Breton District Health Authority say closing the Northside and New Waterfors ERs for six alternating weeks is the best way it knows how to deal with vacations and other staffing issues. They also say they are working on other solutions, especially when three quarters of ER visits are not actual emergencies.

“It’s been a significant challenge for us and for other districts in the province, but we’re working on plans that include collaborative emergency centres for less urgent and non-urgent health issues,” says Greg Boone of the Cape Breton District Health Authority.

However, Orrell says it’s not just a summer issue and the Northside ER was closed 1,700 hours in a single year. He says that creates a cynicism that has some wondering if smaller emergency rooms will one day cease to exist.

“The writing’s on the wall for it,” says Watts. “I think everyone’s pretty much given up on that. It’s just a matter of time.”

In the meantime, people in need of ER service are going to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald