Health care cuts worry residents

Denise Pike
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Reduction of services will reflect in polls in next election

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.

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,

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 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 in-patient 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 eliminate 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 long-term 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 health-care cuts to win votes in the Oct. 27 byelection in the Straits-White 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, 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."

Organizations: The Compass, NDP, Newhook Clinic

Geographic location: Whitbourne, Lewisporte, Northern Peninsula Trinity South St. John's Carbonear Newfoundland Bell Island Old Perlican St. Anthony Straits-White Bay

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