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Chemo room crucial amidst healthcare woes

A closeup of a chemotherapy IV in a patient’s hand.. – National Cancer Institute / Unsplash (editorial stock photo)

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — Across the board, cracks have appeared in the provincial and national healthcare system, from recruitment and retention, to significant wait times and a lack of available services. But throughout the pandemic and despite severe staffing shortages, the chemotherapy unit at Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre, has been hailed as a unit filled with top-notch, dedicated nurses.

A representative for Western Health stated via email that the staff at the region’s chemotherapy unit have numerous duties to co-ordinate each day.

“Nurses on the chemotherapy unit at Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre co-ordinate patient care between family physicians, oncologists, and for diagnostic appointments. They also work closely with the pharmacy and the Provincial Cancer Care program staff to ensure that patients are receiving safe and appropriate care. The chemotherapy nurse helps facilitate video/telehealth conferences with oncologists in St. Johns, which reduces the need for patients to travel.

“Nurses on the chemotherapy unit monitor and treat patients receiving a variety of chemotherapy treatments based on their cancer diagnoses. They also provide patients with information to help them to access programs and resources offered by the NL Cancer Society and the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Center.”

Patient Wayne Osmond has been battling cancer since 2015 and is back at LeGrow twice a month for chemotherapy treatments. Osmond said the nurses who work in the chemo room do so diligently, treating their patients with respect, compassion, and kindness.

“In 2015, I went and got some tests and on October 23 I got a phone call saying my cousin just passed away. And about an hour later the doctor phoned me and he wanted to talk to me, and I was diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer at that time,” said Osmond. “I had to go down to have orientation before my surgery and they would tell me about my chemo. I was scared because I thought it was a doom and gloom place where people would be dying and in pain, but on the contrary, it was much better than that. I met so many friends down there and the nurses were just so good.”

Osmond said it is easy to get caught up in the negativity about the current state of the healthcare system and forget about all the good things staff are accomplishing.

“There’s so much doom and gloom that you can hear in the media and from everybody, but it’s really not all like that,” said Osmond. “That chemo room down there is probably one of the better places down there that I’ve ever shown up to.”

Even though one of the major complaints throughout the province revolves around significant wait times and staffing delays for more involved tests and procedures, Osmond has never had that experience with the local unit.

“Everything went on schedule. Every second Monday I would go in for a blood test and they would see if I’m prepared for my chemo the next day. Some days I would have to wait an extra day or so to build my blood up, but I’ve had close to 50 chemo treatments now and a few radiations, and I’ve never been delayed by much.”

Chemotherapy treatments can be difficult and frightening, but Osmond said the staff on the unit help keep him calm and relaxed.

“They are complete angels. Some of the girls have retired since I’ve been down there, the first couple I had, but when they bring in new people they are well trained and they look after me. I’m at ease when I go into that room. I know I’m safe.”

Osmond has recently noticed that the staff seem extra busy, but says it doesn’t affect the quality of care they are able to offer.

“Last time I was down there, one nurse had people hooked up before I got there at 9:00 a.m.. Then she started on me, and throughout it all there were bells and whistles going off. Chemo was running out, blood pressure gauges, and she was by herself. I don’t know if she even had a 15-minute break while I was there and I didn’t get out until after 12:00 p.m.”

Western Health stated that the number of visits to the chemotherapy unit are slightly down in comparison with last year.

“On average, there are 55 appointments on the chemotherapy unit each month (some patients have more than one appointment each month). This excludes telehealth appointments. In 2021-22, there were 453 visits to the chemotherapy unit at the LeGrow Health Centre. In 2020-21, there were 502.”

Western Health said there is one full time chemotherapy nurse currently employed at LeGrow, with other nurses providing assistance and vacation relief when necessary. Having only one full time nurse on staff does nothing to detract from the care that patients receive.

“Patients are often grateful to be able to receive treatment closer to at home rather than have the added expense of travel and accommodations during an already stressful time in their lives. Patients provide positive feedback to staff on the chemotherapy unit.”

Osmond said he would love to see more assistance for the staff in the chemotherapy unit because they deserve the chance to have a break.

“It would be nice to see them have more help. They are probably working overtime and everything. Having an extra nurse or so would give them a bit of a break. They must be getting stressed out. I just feel so bad for them.”

Some help for the nurses and patients recently arrived in the form of donations. Nine-year-old Sadie Chaulk had her own toy sale and used the proceeds to purchase two fans for the LeGrow Health Centre in memory of her grandmother, Joan Hilliard, who was an LPN at the facility before she retired.

Additionally, a newly decorated telehealth room is in place thanks to the donations received in memory of Arlene Hollett, an employee of LeGrow and lead hand in the dietary department when she retired. The $2,800 raised by Amanda Matthews in 2021 during the 200 km Chemo Run helped with the purchase of a new vital signs monitor.

Every little bit counts, as it helps make work easier for the staff.

“Since I’ve been down there, the first two people that were in the chemo room with me have since passed. I lost a lot of friends in that room over the years, and it’s so tough on them, too. They’re dealing with losing people all the time, and sometimes we don’t realize who we’ve got down there. We put the system down all the time, and I’m on a cancer forum and what I hear, with people not able to get cancer treatments right, no insurance and going bankrupt, what we have compared to them, we are very lucky. They are on the front lines and they are there for us every day.”

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