There was talk of other issues – pathology, anesthesiology and ambulance service among them – at a public forum on health care Wednesday night, April 17, in Carbonear.
But the big topic on the tip of most tongues was the ongoing demand for family physicians in the Trinity-Conception region.
The event, which was closed to media, was scheduled to last two hours, but went well past the two-and-a-half-hour mark as people continued to raise issues and ask questions to an assembled panel of Eastern Health officials. The Town of Carbonear hosted the meeting at Princess Sheila NaGeira Theatre, which attracted over 140 attendees.
“It was very evident that we had gaps in coverage for family docs, and there’s lots of reasons why we’re there,” Ron Johnson, vice-president of information services and rural health for Eastern Health, told The Compass following the meeting. “It validated what we had thought from (hearing from) the people in the area. We see our weaknesses in this, but also we see our opportunities and with a sense of urgency try to plug the gaps here as best we can.”
According to Eastern Health, eight family physicians in the Trinity-Conception region have retired within the last few years, leaving thousands of patients without a family doctor.
Gerry Power, a Carbonear resident who admits he’s fortunate to still have a family physician, had hoped to hear more definitive answers on recruitment. He was ultimately dismayed to hear Eastern Health is not officially tasked with recruiting family physicians. As he understands it, the family physicians who retired tried to find people to fill their practices, but could not do so.
“There’s been friends of mine who retired as doctors and moved on, and I know that there have been some doctors brought in here, and they couldn’t handle the workload that’s here,” Power told The Compass after he left Wednesday’s meeting. “This is a big problem. These young doctors need to have a life.”
For the recruitment of physicians, Power does not envision any easy answers to solving the shortage problem in the area. He believes Eastern Health needs to expand clinics for family medicine offered through the hospital in Carbonear. Currently, the hospital has a clinic operating Monday-through-Friday from 5-9 p.m. Eastern Health previously told The Compass that service has been used to capacity.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the people in this building tonight, they came to listen to Eastern Health to tell us what are we going to do about the crisis that we have in this area here, right now,” Power said, noting it was mentioned in the meeting that a family doctor serving the Trinity South area is approaching the point where he too may retire soon.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that we’re in a crisis, and the answers that were provided there tonight were no answers.”
Eastern Health on the shortage
Johnson said the people he heard speak Wednesday night were very knowledgeable about the situation in the region and were very much in line with what Eastern Health has heard from Carbonear council members. He also stressed the fact that the regional health authority is presently engaged in work to address the family physician shortage.
“Especially with the access to primary health care and physicians, (it’s) a very complex issue, but at the same time we have to provide the services and figure it out. I think we have to figure that out with a sense of urgency and we have current strategies and stop-gap measures.
“We’ve offered up a family doctor and nurse practitioner to put into clinics through an expression of interest. We’ll get that filled as quickly as we can and quickly evaluate that. We do have things in the pipeline. We do have people that are interested in coming. Some are in various stages of med school that likely are a long-term solution. But we do have a very acute short-term issue and we have to get at it.”
As for Eastern Health’s role in family physician recruitment, Johnson admitted the distinction can become a bit foggy when dealing with private fee-for-service doctors, primary health care and salaried doctors working out of a hospital. But he said the health authority acknowledges the deficiencies within the local service and is doing its best to address the problem.
Mike Lundrigan, a Bay Roberts resident who attended Wednesday’s meeting, was pleased to hear action is being taken to address the family physician shortage in the area.
“I appreciate everybody’s hard work and effort. It’s not an easy thing to solve, but at least we know efforts are being made, and for that, I am appreciative.”