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Fly in, fly out healthcare service

NL Health Minister Tom Osborne (left) and Premier Andrew Furey during the province’s announcement unveiling the new service on Tuesday, Jan. 31. – via YouTube

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

ST. JOHN’S — A new initiative by the provincial government is intended to offer a much-needed boost to accessing medical care. On Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 31, the provincial government announced what they dubbed a ‘creative solution’ to promote access to healthcare in the province, a pilot project that was spearheaded by and recently implemented by the Eastern Regional Health Authority. The approach allows patients from regions outside Eastern Health, who are in need of cardiac catheterization procedures only offered in St. John’s, greater access to this care via a fly in, fly out same day service. “Newfoundland and Labrador leads the country in both burden and complexity of cardiovascular disease, and reducing the cardiac surgery wait list is a priority for our government. This innovative strategy to address the number of people currently waiting for cardiac procedures in other regions of our province helps Eastern Health respond to the demand that has resulted from the pandemic and the cyberattack, as well as resource challenges. Solutions like this one are in keeping with our government’s commitment to change the delivery of health care in our province for the better,” said Premier Andrew Furey. The patients are assessed, and based on the severity of their requirements, those who are fit for travel are flown into St. John’s for the procedure and will be flown back to their health care facility later that same day. The hope is that this will address the backlog of patients awaiting cardiac catheterization procedures, and free up bed space within Eastern Health that can be utilized for other patients. “In this case, patients are receiving the care they need, they get to return to their home area the same day, and hospital beds in this region remain available for other patients,” said Tom Osborne, Minister of Health and Community Services. Additionally, it aims to decrease the significant cost for individuals and families who have to travel to and stay in St. John’s for the entire duration of their required procedure and any subsequent follow up. To date, 25 patients have benefited from the pilot project. “Cardiac patients located in other regional health authorities have specific challenges accessing cardiac catheterization in St. John’s, such as waiting for a bed to open up in Eastern Health and then co-ordinating that with flights and arrangements for their support persons as they recuperate. This innovative approach supports stable inpatients by transporting them to the cardiac catheterization lab in the morning where they were assessed, treated as appropriate and, depending on clinical findings, returned to their regional health authority later the same day to recuperate closer to their homes and families,” said Dr. Sean Connors, Clinical Chief of Cardiac Care at Eastern Health. For other patient care centres like Dr. Charles L. LeGrow and Sir Thomas Roddick, the increased access to services for the patients in the communities these facilities serve is a definite advantage, and something that Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button is happy to see. “I see it as positive because it means that we are going to bring down wait times,” said Button. “I’ve seen it all too many times, with family members and friends, who have been here, sitting in the hospital, waiting for a bed to become available in St. John’s, waiting to go in for a procedure, and that time would last, sometimes into a couple of weeks. For me, seeing that, if it means we are going to get someone in to get a procedure done same day and be brought back, at least then they are getting the care that is needed and it takes away a bit of that stress about the unknown and the waiting. From what I’ve seen about the pilot project, it seems to be going fairly well and I see it as a positive for us, especially in these regions.” He doesn’t believe that the benefits will be for patients alone. “In a lot of these cases we leave patients in the hospital because, putting them out and not knowing what’s going to happen, where this is cardiac we’re dealing with (is inadvisable). People have remained in the hospital until they could get into the Health Science Centre, we’ll say, to get procedures done, and knowing now that the work can be done and they get back the same day, that means less time, less resources, and less beds being taken up,” said Button. “I am certainly open to it, especially if it means we be able to get a lot of these procedures done in a timely manner as opposed to the way things go now. If anybody has been inside the Health Science Centre at any given time, I just came back a little while ago, visiting a family member that was on the cardiac ward, that place is hopping. It’s just madness. I was talking to a lady who had been there four weeks for a procedure. She was away from her home, a small region, a small place,” shared Button. The mayor said that the relief for patients and their families from the extra expense required to travel for medical care is another significant benefit. “When they mention the added costs that are associated for residents, the benefits to that, are a positive as well. We have people here that end up going down to get a procedure, and then once the procedure is done, they find themselves outside the Health Sciences Centre, trying to find their way back home from St. John’s,” said Button. “This way, the costs are lowered and the nurses that are involved will be involved with the whole care, right from the time they leave Port aux Basques to the time they go get the procedure done and finally when they get back to LeGrow.”

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