Un­healthy

Re­duc­tion of ser­vices will re­flect in polls in next elec­tion

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENISE PIKE

Gov­ern­ment bet­ter not be think­ing about lay­ing a scalpel on health care ser­vices in Trin­ity South, if lo­cal MHAs know what’s good for their po­lit­i­cal health. The peo­ple there want an­other Lewis­porte or Flower’s Cove fi­asco, like they want a pain in the...

All the hoopla about cuts to health care ser­vices on the North­ern Penin­sula has some res­i­dents along the Trin­ity South Shore think­ing about the ser­vices in their area.

Bob, a Trin­ity South res­i­dent, is afraid the lab­o­ra­tory and x-ray ser­vices at the Dr. W. H. Ne­whook Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre in Whit­bourne could be re­duced or cut. If that hap­pens he feels it will mark the beginning of the end for the fa­cil­ity.

“So far there haven’t been any changes, but if it hap­pens I think it is just as well to put the locks on the doors,” says Bob. “Peo­ple from all over the Trin­ity Shore, Whit­bourne, Pla­cen­tia and Nor­man’s Cove area re­ally de­pend on those ser­vices. If they’re cut or re­duced it’s go­ing to af­fect the health of a lot of peo­ple.”

Lose doc­tors

Bob also fears the clinic may lose doc­tors.

“Th­ese ser­vices (lab and x-ray) en­tice doc­tors to set up their prac­tices here. They like the fact they have im­me­di­ate ac­cess to the lab and x-ray depart­ment be­cause they are bet­ter able to treat their pa­tients,” he sug­gests. “It’s hard enough to get doc­tors to move here to ru­ral New­found­land as it is, we don’t need some­thing else driv­ing them away. Also I’m not sure any­one in gov­ern­ment re­al­izes how many peo­ple from around here drive to St. John’s to see their fam­ily doc­tor, but have all their blood work and x-rays done at the lab in Whit­bourne. If we lose th­ese ser­vices it means longer wait­ing times in the hos­pi­tals at St. John’s or in Carbonear. They’re al­ready over booked, over­worked and un­der­staffed so that will be a night­mare!”

Ad­dress­ing deficits

Bob’s con­cerns about the pos­si­ble cuts to health ser­vices at the Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre in Whit­bourne stem from the

“We might not have a by­elec­tion here, but we can kick up a stink and protest just as loudly as the peo­ple of Lewis­porte and Flower’s Cove. We’re not for­get­ting about the pro­vin­cial elec­tion, which is com­ing up in 2011 ei­ther ei­ther.”

— BOB, TRIN­ITY SOUTH RES­I­DENT

Sept. 21 release of doc­u­ments writ­ten by re­gional health boards to for­mer Health Min­is­ter Paul Oram. The doc­u­ments, writ­ten prior to the 2009 pro­vin­cial bud­get, out­lined op­tions for re­duc­ing health care spending and ad­dress­ing bud­get deficits.

At that time the prov­ince’s largest board, East­ern Health, was fac­ing a $22 mil­lion short­fall.

Op­tions

Some of the op­tions in­cluded elim­i­nat­ing School Health Li­ai­son po­si­tions, re­duc­ing the num­ber of surg­eries and lab ser­vices dur­ing the spring and sum­mer months, and re­view­ing the in­pa­tient beds (ex­clud­ing pal­lia­tive and con­va­les­cence care) on Bell Is­land. The doc­u­ments also sug­gested re­view­ing the de­liv­ery of lab and di­ag­nos­tic ser­vices in hos­pi­tals at St. Lawrence, Old Per­li­can and Whit­bourne. If ser­vices in th­ese three hos­pi­tals were re­duced it would re­sult in an an­nual sav­ings of $3,800,000.

The doc­u­ments were re­leased as part of the gov­ern­ment’s plan, an­nounced Aug. 29. to con­tain the fall­out from its de­ci­sion to close x-ray and lab ser­vices in Lewis­porte and Flower’s Cove.

At that time gov­ern­ment said X-ray and lab ser­vices pro­vided in Lewis­porte would be moved to Grand Falls-Wind­sor, about 70 kilo­me­tres away, and to Gan­der, about 60 kilo­me­tres away.

Gov­ern­ment also said it would cut op­er­at­ing hours at the com­mu­nity clinic in Flower’s Cove, on the North­ern Penin­sula, to 12 hours a day from 24, and elim- inate lab and X-ray ser­vices. Flower’s Cove res­i­dents would have to travel about two hours to the hospi­tal in St. An­thony to re­ceive the ser­vices. Protests and res­ig­na­tions

Body­text: The an­nounced cuts sparked large protests in both com­mu­ni­ties, but the health min­is­ter at the time, Paul Oram, said the gov­ern­ment was stand­ing firm.

“ The de­ci­sions in Flower’s Cove and Lewis­porte are fi­nal de­ci­sions,” said Oram. “ They won’t be changed.”

How­ever on Oct. 1 Oram said the de­ci­sion to cut clinic hours had been re­versed, but plans to cut X-ray and lab ser­vices in Flower’s Cove and Lewis­porte were go­ing ahead.

Just days later, Oct. 7 Oram re­signed from cab­i­net and pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics cit­ing per­sonal health rea­sons (high blood pres­sure) and con­cerns about how the me­dia were cov­er­ing his han­dling of the health-care port­fo­lio as be­ing the cause. Later that day, Jerome Kennedy, Carbonear/ Har­bour Grace MHA was shuf­fled from fi­nance to health.

That same evening, Kennedy and Premier Danny Wil­liams flew to the North­ern Penin­sula to meet with com­mu­nity leaders in Flower’s Cove. Kennedy told the leaders the pro­posed cuts might be avoid­able if other health-care sav­ings can be found.

Last Wed­nes­day Oct. 14 Lewis­porte Mayor Brian Peck­ford met with Kennedy.

The mayor said he was told (by Kennedy) the prov­ince may be able save lab and X-ray ser­vices in Lewis­porte if they can find some health-care sav­ings else­where. Peck­ford said the money would prob­a­bly have to come from the pro­posed re­de­vel­op­ment of North Haven Manor in Lewis­porte, a longterm care fa­cil­ity sched­uled to re­ceive a $32-mil­lion up­grade.

Re­view­ing re­view

On Thurs­day Oct. 15 Kennedy said he may can­cel a prov­ince wide re­view of lab­o­ra­tory and X-ray ser­vices al­to­gether.

“So at this stage I can’t tell you that the re­view is fin­ished. It’s still on. But it’s some­thing I will be re­view­ing in a pe­riod of the next week or so,” Kennedy told re­porters. “We’re re­view­ing whether or not the re­view is even nec­es­sary at this point. I’m hope­ful we will reach a res­o­lu­tion and then at that point the X-ray re­view may not be nec­es­sary. So, we are go­ing to play it by ear right now and re­ally see where we go with Lewis­porte and Flower’s Cove.”

Buy­ing votes

Mean­while the prov­ince’s op­po­si­tion par­ties say they be­lieve the gov­ern­ment is only con­sid­er­ing rev­ers­ing health­care cuts to win votes in the Oct. 27 by­elec­tion in the Strait­sWhite Bay North district. The district, which in­cludes the town of Flower’s Cove, was rep­re­sented by for­mer min­is­ter Trevor Tay­lor be­fore he re­signed last month.

Pro­vin­cial Lib­eral Op­po­si­tion Leader Yvonne Jones says gov­ern­ment is just buy­ing it­self time un­til af­ter the first by­elec­tion.

“Gov­ern­ment’s action on this is­sue is re­lated to the by­elec­tion on the North­ern Penin­su­ala, there’s no doubt about that,” Jones told The Com­pass last Fri­day. “They should be out now telling the peo­ple in Flower’s Cove and Lewis­porte that their ser­vices won’t be cut.”

Jones also doesn’t like Kennedy telling res­i­dents the cuts will be re­versed if sav­ings can be found else­where.

“They are hold­ing th­ese peo­ple and the ser­vices they need at ran­som,” she says. “They are giv­ing with one hand and tak­ing away with the other.”

NDP Leader Lor­raine Michael (MHA Sig­nal Hill-Quidi Vidi) feels the Min­is­ter of Health’s call for a re­view of his depart­ment’s re­view of lab and x-ray is noth­ing more than dam­age con­trol.

“The gov­ern­ment wants to cut the health care bud­get

willy-nilly without an over­all plan to make the whole sys­tem work bet­ter,” said Michael in an Oct. 16 press release.

“ The Wil­liams ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided to do a so-called re­view of lab and x-ray ser­vices to make cuts, but they un­der­es­ti­mated the power of lo­cal protests in Lewis­porte and Flower’s Cove and had to back down fast for the by-elec­tions.”

Backed into a cor­ner

Michael be­lieves Kennedy has been backed into a cor­ner by his pre­de­ces­sor’s in­ep­ti­tude and is now strug­gling.

“The min­is­ter said this morn­ing that he is think­ing twice about the prov­ince-wide re­view of lab and x-ray ser­vices which started in Au­gust. He was quoted as say­ing they are re­view­ing whether or not the re­view is even nec­es­sary at this point,” says Michael.

“This piece­meal way of try­ing to fix the health care sys­tem is not get­ting us any­where. We need a full ex­ter­nal re­view of the en­tire health care sys­tem. The NDP has been the only op­po­si­tion party call­ing for such a re­view for two years now. A re­view would find cost sav­ings in a more organized and com­pas­sion­ate way than the gov­ern­ment is do­ing right now,” con­cluded Michael.

Kennedy, how­ever de­nies the claims made by Jones and Michaels.

“The premier told peo­ple in the area we were will­ing to work with them and that’s what we are do­ing. We are try­ing to find a so­lu­tion. We’re not try­ing to buy the by­elec­tion,” said Kennedy.

Bet­ter think again

Mean­while Bob has a mes­sage for gov­ern­ment.

“ I’ve been speak­ing to a lot of peo­ple about this re­view of our lab and x-ray ser­vices at the Ne­whook Clinic and the pos­si­bil­ity of it be­ing re­moved and if this is some­thing gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing, they bet­ter think again. We might not have a by­elec­tion here, but we can kick up a stink and protest just as loudly as the peo­ple of Lewis­porte and Flower’s Cove. We are not for­get­ting about the pro­vin­cial elec­tion,

“We might not have a by­elec­tion here, but we can kick up a stink and protest just as loudly as the peo­ple of Lewis­porte and Flower’s Cove. We’re not for­get­ting about the pro­vin­cial elec­tion, which is com­ing up in 2011 ei­ther ei­ther.”

— BOB, TRIN­ITY SOUTH RES­I­DENT

which is com­ing up in 2011 ei­ther. There are three MHA’s ( Felix Collins, Calvin Peach and Char­lene John­son) who come un­der the area served by this clinic and if we lose our ser­vices, it’s go­ing to re­flect in the polls.”

Denise Pike/The Com­pass

NE­WHOOK CEN­TRE - Res­i­dents along the Trin­ity Shore are keep­ing an eye on what’s hap­pen­ing to the lab­o­ra­tory and x-ray and ser­vices in other ar­eas of the prov­ince. They do not want the same re­duc­tion in ser­vices, pro­posed for Lewis­porte and Flower’s Cove, to oc­cur at the Dr. W.H. Ne­whook Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre or the Dr. A.A. Wilkin­son Memo­rial Health Cen­tre in Old Per­li­can.

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