James Fitzpatrick is just about at wits end when trying to get a new prescription filled in Carbonear.
The 76-year-old lifelong resident of the Conception Bay North community has survived three heart attacks and two bouts of cancer, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and sleep apnea and is currently dealing with a broken foot. He was recently in need of a new prescription for about a week but Fitzpatrick said it couldn’t be renewed due to a change in the prescription.
Accessing a physician isn’t easy for Fitzpatrick. His family doctor retired about a month ago. Fitzpatrick doesn’t have transportation and it costs him $7 each way to take a taxi to the TC Medical Centre for a walk-in appointment, and it’s not guaranteed he’ll be seen. He has lived alone since his wife Joan died a year ago.
He tried the evening clinic at Carbonear General Hospital but couldn’t get through over the course of an hour to arrange an appointment. He later obtained the phone number for an employee at the hospital who told him there was nothing they could do, saying it was losing a physician at the family clinic.
Directed to an Eastern Health official at the hospital who was higher up the chain, Fitzpatrick said he was told to try the health-care facilities in Whitbourne or Old Perlican. A drive to either of those places from Carbonear takes 45 to 55 minutes.
“I don’t have transportation. Fifty years ago, you could jump aboard the beach and go on the Fleetline bus to St. John’s at 7 o’clock in the morning. If I missed the first one I could get aboard a bus at 8 o’clock and go to St. John’s. You don’t have that (now).”
In an emailed statement, Eastern Health said the evening clinic at the hospital has not lost any physicians.
“The family medicine evening clinic at Carbonear General Hospital continues to operate five days a week with one-two physician coverage. There is no loss of service as it is staffed with physicians based on their availability.”
Fitzpatrick can recall a time when Carbonear had close to 10 family doctors, but now Fitzpatrick sees a much different situation in the community and it alarms him. He believes the province is not doing enough to address local doctor shortages, and he points to administration at the hospital in Carbonear for failing to adequately rectify a predicament that’s leaving many seniors in a lurch.
“It’s all over the island, but it seems to be an awful problem here in Carbonear,” he said. “If I was a doctor right now, I think I’d love to come to Carbonear with the population they have. You’re going to make a fortune. But then they’ve got to spend so many hours at the hospital. The hospital is the problem.”
His concerns about health care in the region were further amplified by recent news of Moore’s Ambulance Service losing its government funding as of April 6. When it announced the news, the Department of Health and Communities Services said service to the Conception Bay North region would not be disrupted, and Minister John Haggie later stated the department was working to find a new service provider to fund.
“Moore’s has operated here pretty much all my lifetime that I can remember,” Fitzpatrick said, adding he had good experiences with the company.
On April 4, the health department announced Fewer’s Ambulance would take over the service and operate from the same bases Moore’s did – Clarke’s Beach and Harbour Grace.
This past February, an Eastern Health official based in Carbonear told The Compass the Trinity-Conception area had lost eight doctors to retirement over the last several years, with each of them carrying a substantial patient load.
Since the evening clinic at Carbonear General Hospital first began booking appointments a year ago, it has operated at capacity. The clinic handled 7,098 appointments in 2018 and has typically operated with two physicians.
In the same story published in February, Eastern Health officials said efforts to recruit physicians were ongoing, with the Carbonear hospital’s official role as a teaching site for Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine viewed as a strategic advantage for introducing doctors-in-training to the region.
A public forum on local health-care services hosted by the Town of Carbonear with Eastern Health is scheduled for Wednesday, April 17 at the Princess Sheila NaGeira Theatre. The event starts at 6 p.m.