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Healthcare retention harder for rural regions

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

SOUTHWEST COAST – On Wednesday, June 22, an Angus Reid poll was released, and revealed that 83 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are least satisfied with the provincial government’s handling of the healthcare system.

Paul Dinn, PC Official Opposition Shadow Minister for Health and Community Services and MHA for Topsail-Paradise issued the following statement:

“The healthcare crisis gripping Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t start overnight, but the Furey Government has failed to act. Emergency rooms are being diverted, family doctors are retiring or moving elsewhere, and an estimated 125,000 people do not have access to a family doctor,” stated Dinn. “Ten-year plans are necessary, but the people of our province are feeling the effects of government’s mismanagement of healthcare over the last seven years right now. People need help today to ensure healthcare is accessible no matter where they live in our province.”

What compounds the issue even more for residents in rural communities is their ability to attract and retain physicians, something noted by Loyola O’Driscoll, PC Official Opposition MHA for Ferryland. In her statement, O’Driscoll maintained that current incentives are either not good enough or entirely non-existent.

“The province needs to be creative in attracting and retaining physicians in our rural communities, and the efforts by this Liberal government frankly haven’t been good enough. There are physicians ready and willing to practice in rural areas like Trepassey in my district, but they are receiving the run around from the Furey Liberal government,” said O’Driscoll in a prepared statement. “The necessary incentives to attract family physicians to rural areas are simply not adequate. It’s no wonder rural parts of our province are seeing more doctors leave than are recruited.”

O’Driscoll added that inequitable accommodations between physicians that want to practice in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and their counterparts in other health professions, are part of the problem.

“We need as many healthcare professionals as we can get, and this Liberal government should be bending over backwards to provide the necessary accommodations for these highly trained individuals. Instead, the Furey Liberal government is demonstrating its blatant disrespect for all medical professionals by forcing them into arrangements that don’t make sense,” said O’Driscoll. “The Furey Liberal government has re-implemented forced resettlement, just by another name. If the Premier’s goal is to drive physicians away from rural communities, he’s doing a damn fine job of it.”

Mayor Brian Button said the recent loss of a second family physician in Port Aux Basques in a matter of months demonstrates how worrisome the situation truly is.

“For many years we’ve been very lucky here. We’ve had a good contingent of family physicians in our community. We went through a crisis many years ago. We ran through a similar thing that many communities in Central are running through. We ran down to one family doctor that was in the community, and we know what it’s like to not have that type of coverage. So we’ve been in that crisis before and now, to see that over the last little while we’ve lost two family doctors in the area, it becomes very concerning, although not a crisis as of yet. But we need to have those conversations now on what do we do before we run into a crisis.”

Button said the dialogue to form a strategy has already begun.

“We’ve had some conversations with Western (Health). We’ve had some conversations with the local chiefs here and we’ve been discussing what a game plan could be and we are trying to put together a few things here now to see which way we’ll go with our community structure to be able to tackle this and talk to the right people.”

Button said the concern is two-fold, as more than his town is affected by doctor shortages. The Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre is located in Port aux Basques, but services the entire Southwest Coast region, as do many of its doctors through private family practices.

“We’re concerned for the entire region, for people who may be out in the wilderness with no family physician. We’re worried about those people, people who have health issues and need to have that doctor coverage. We’re concerned about getting them into some of the other clinics, getting them in there to make sure they’re taken care of, but we’re also concerned about our existing physicians who are already here on the types of workloads that they are going to get and how they will be able to maintain that. So there’s a balance there that we really need to look at.”

MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) agrees that for people in rural communities the healthcare situation is more serious.

“You’re seeing, in some cases, you could almost have a forced outmigration of people, an exodus, because access to healthcare is one of the key components to community and living in a community. And encouraging people to move to a community, and without that service available to people, it becomes a real challenge.”

Wakeham said that some success is being seen in the Stephenville area with respect to the retention and recruitment of physicians and specialists, but it’s not going to be solved overnight.

“Part of that recruitment and retention needs to come down to looking at and talking with the people who are graduating from our med schools and finding a way to encourage people to continue to practice here in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Community teams are all part of those solutions, but before you can start to make those types of changes you really have to turn around and start the recruitment process. It’s no good to say you’re going to have a community team if you’ve got no people to fill the team. The concept may be a good concept, but until you’ve got people to fill all the positions, you’re not really making any progress.”

Wakeham said the province is competing nationally, and sometimes internationally, for healthcare professionals, so it needs to be quite competitive.

“Our province needs to be competitive on a tax structure. It needs to be competitive on a recruitment and a retention strategy. So we will continue to press for those.”

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