By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – Healthcare has become problematic throughout the entire province and the proposed Health Accord, combined with doctor shortages, are adding to the pressure. Sarah Rowe, Councillor for Cape St. George said that if services are further downgraded in the Bay St. George region, it will cause significant strain, particularly for residents in more rural communities.
“We have a peninsula who takes up a majority of the west coast of Newfoundland, who need healthcare just as much as the people in Corner Brook, and having to go there would mean having to drive over two hours to get to the hospital instead of 45 minutes, which is a really big difference, especially for people who are really sick,” says Rowe.
Rowe believes that it sometimes feels as though Western Health isn’t taking people living outside of population centers into consideration when making large-scale decisions.
“In a way I feel discriminated against because, the way I see it is Western Health is prioritizing people living in bigger cities and not people who are living in rural communities,” says Rowe. “How can you justify that someone’s health in a city is more important than someone’s health in a rural area? We already have minimal services in our area, and the fact that we could potentially minimize it more is saddening and it seems unfair.”
Rowe believes that the Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital is an important resource, but not as important as the people working in it.
“Patients are suffering because of the lack of healthcare and I’m fearful that, if our hospital is downgraded to a level one hospital, that there will be little to no help for patients who suffer from a critical illness,” said Rowe. “Already there are patients with no family doctor in Stephenville, so by removing doctors, who are these patients going to see?”
Rowe maintains that the financial budget for the province should have healthcare as a top priority.
“There is already a lack of healthcare in our province and by removing services you’re only decreasing the quality of healthcare that we are receiving, and that is something we cannot afford,” insists Rowe.
Tara Pye, Director of Corporate Communication for Western Health, responded to e-mail inquiries, stating that the Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital in Stephenville provides many valuable health services and there are no plans to close the hospital or decrease the level of services being offered.
“Western Health is experiencing vacancies in health providers throughout the region including in the Stephenville/Bay St. George area. At times vacancies in positions can cause disruptions in access to services. Western Health understands this is difficult for people in the region. Patients who have concerns with accessing care should contact Client Relations at 1-833-784-6802,” wrote Pye. “For individuals who do not have a family doctor or primary care nurse practitioner, they add their name to the waitlist through the Find a Provider online form.”
Pye also noted that Western Health is continuing to actively recruit for numerous positions in the Bay St. George area and have made necessary changes to their employment development program to meet educational needs.
“Staff at Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital will continue to have onsite access to a library space with a full suite of electronic library resources. Due to realignment of these resources, we were able to create a new nursing position to meet the needs in the Stephenville/Bay St. George area. The new position will provide increased access to services such as home IV therapy, home chemotherapy, end of life care, and wound care. This position will provide support for individuals to remain in their own home to receive nursing care and to avoid unnecessary visits to the emergency department."
MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) believes that current recruitment practices are not working.
“This goes right back to central government and the Department of Health and Community Services because they had been warned and told about this pending shortage of physicians for more than five years, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association have been clamouring and asking for a recruitment plan, only to find out through ATIPPA that no such plan exists,” said Wakeham. “It’s not good enough to say each Regional Health Authority (RHA) has their own physician recruiter and they go talk to MUN. It’s not working.”
Wakeham said this healthcare crisis is something that has been on the horizon for a long time, including in this region.
“We’ve waited too long. We’ve waited for a crisis to develop before we’ve actually sat down and said we should do something about this. It didn’t happen overnight,” said Wakeham. “This is something that has been developing, and we’ve now reached nine in our region, but it started off with one and has continued to grow. I’m concerned about the revolving door. We all know as soon as you get down in numbers, that puts a lot more pressure and stress on the people who are left behind.”
Wakeham said the province has historically relied on medical graduates from other countries and provinces and have been serviced well by these physicians and healthcare workers, but the red tape involved is only compounding the issue.
“We now seem to have made it more difficult for us to attract people to our province,” said Wakeham. “It’s time for somebody to clearly outline: Is there a difference in the application process? What is the application process. How can we improve the application process? Until somebody comes out and talks about it, we are left not knowing why.”
Wakeham said there has been a failure in the region regarding recruitment in the healthcare field.
“We are down nine family physicians in our region now. We know some people have retired and we also know some have left and gone to work at the hospital itself, but the whole thing for me is – Western Health hasn’t told us why they left. The other side of recruiting is retention and I don’t think we’ve done a very good job in retaining physicians and other health professionals."
Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose says that he and the town council are working diligently on this file.
“We’re doing everything we feel we can, but we plan to do more,” says Rose. “This is such a high priority item in this community because we have our blessed 24-hour Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital in Stephenville. We have had meetings with the Health Accord executives, and that went well, and we had meetings with Western Health.”
Rose say that the next meeting on the agenda is with Western Health recruiters to strategize a proper plan of action.
“We want to sit down with them and figure out a plan so we can get some physicians in Stephenville to take on some of the case load, so that the residents of Stephenville and the surrounding area can get a family doctor. That’s first and foremost as a priority,” says Rose.
Rose believes it is difficult to replace physicians with long-standing caseloads, so council will also be promoting their recruitment package as well.
“We’re probably in one of the worst positions we’ve been in when it comes to healthcare in the past 40 years. There’s nowhere in the Health Accord that says we are going to be downsized or lose our operating rooms or that we’re not going to be a 24-hour emergency hospital, but still we are managed by a structure. And in order for that structure to be managed properly, we have to stay on top of them, and that’s my job,” says Rose. “Every one of my council members is taking this very seriously; speaking on it. Laura Aylward is our champion. She knows so much about this file. I try to educate myself as much as I can, but I’m there for the community and I’m very hopeful about our future.”