By Ryan King
Community News Reporter
– with files from Jaymie L. White
WEST COAST — On Thursday, Feb. 17, Health Accord NL co-chairs Sister Elizabeth Davis and Dr. Pat Parfrey, released their final report to the provincial government. Among the announcement were 57 calls to action focused on improving social, economic, and environmental conditions that all have an impact on a person’s health and well-being.
The report aims to implement a course of action to provide better and faster access to health care, and to develop an integrated and sustainable health system enhanced by readily available technology. The 266-page report was the result of public and targeted consultations on how health can improve across the province and all factors that influence the health of residents in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Health Accord NL was created in Nov. 2020, and their goal was to develop a 10-year plan with short, medium, and long-term goals for the health system in the province, but the implementation plan has yet to be released.
MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) said a lot of it involves things already known about healthcare in the province, but that it was masterfully put together in one report.
“The situation of our healthcare system, where we’ve been and where we are – we’ve been talking about it for a long time. But putting it all together in one area, you’ve got to commend the people that have done this report. It’s integrated, it’s comprehensive, and it does outline the future vision and what they call their 10-year healthcare transformation. There’s still a need to get things done today as well as transition to a new way of doing things.”
Wakeham said that unfortunately, the healthcare system has reached a point where waiting 10 years simply isn’t feasible.
“It took four years to get an agreement with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. The idea that we were going to have a physician shortage looming was known for some time and yet, we now find ourselves in a position where we can’t wait 10 years. People right now in my district and in the region, many of them have no primary care provider, and their big concern today is about access and affordability. Right now they have no access to a primary care provider, or little access, and they cannot afford to go and pay a private nurse practitioner to be seen nor should they have to.”
Wakeham said the onus is on the government to step up and talk about the short-term solutions, and what can be done while waiting for an implementation strategy.
“We still need solutions, yesterday and today. People need that access. Those are the critical pieces that the government can’t simply say, ‘now we’ve got a plan, we have an accord that will lead us, we will follow the plan’. There are things that need to happen immediately, and that needs to be a focus.”
Wakeham hopes that when they talk about a regional facility and a regional approach, that they are talking about what is already in place and how to better utilize it.
“In the Western Region it shouldn’t be about how many ORs are in Corner Brook Hospital and how many ORs are in Stephenville hospital. It should be about our OR capacity for the region and how we can best utilize the capacity that already exists with the infrastructure already in place, so that at the end of the day nobody should be travelling if their procedures can be done here and we have the facilities and capabilities to do them.”
Stephenville Town Council has been actively trying to recruit healthcare workers to the Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital.
“Sometimes when you look at benchmarks like, what’s our life expectancy, what’s our number one reason for fatalities, end of life, all those factors. Newfoundland comes up short,” said Mayor Tom Rose.
The report recommended a centralized air ambulance service, and Rose believes Stephenville would be an ideal location for that.
“From a logistics perspective, with Stephenville Hospital, Port Aux Basques Hospital, Corner Brook Hospital, Burgeo Hospital, and our whole catchment demographic area, why Stephenville would be so important is because you have that emergency hospital right next to the airport.”
Rose said Stephenville has one of the best weather records in the province, and St. John’s had some of the worst, which is a critical factor to consider for the service and being able to get the aircraft on the ground.
“It would help this area, this region, and this airport. It’s about getting away from centralization and decentralizing. Not everything has to be in St. John’s.”
MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) said that more work is still needed when it comes to implementation.
“The reality is that we all know that the blueprint to help put this in place is still not done or released. So, I mean we have the report, which is quite aspirational, and I think it hits a lot of good points. But there’s still a lot of work left to be done on how do you take something and implement it in our province.”
He said that this would mean changes to health care in the region, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
“People, in general, fear change, and we always assume that change means something negative for us. But we have to look at this in the context of health care in our province right now. I mean, the cost of health care is growing exponentially. Our outcomes are not improving. We probably spend the most per capita, and certainly, our outcomes are not where they need to be. So I think we all have to face the fact that we need to look at change for our own well-being as a province and as people. So that being said, I mean I liked a lot of what they talked about, especially like there’s a huge amount of input on the social determinants of health, and I think that really affects us. I mean, it affects just our health, our functioning, our quality of life. So that’s one big thing that I think plays into it.”
Parsons also said regionalization of healthcare had been something already in place on the Southwest coast for some time now.
“Most of our appointments as it relates to tertiary care or specialists are outside of the area. So that’s not something that’s new, but I think what we’re trying to do is find more of a community team, community supports, for our area that I think will have a difference. And again when you look at the report, like we want to take these teams and we want to connect them with everything that makes up our town, whether its municipalities themselves, schools, community organizations, everybody has a role to play in the improvement of social and economic factors that then will influence our health as a social determinant. We have to continue to provide urgent care. There’s no doubt, that’s one of the big things, right? We also have to find a way for our seniors and older adults. The system has to serve them. It’s the biggest priority and one of the biggest aspects of our demographics. It continues to grow. It has a huge impact on our system, so we need to ensure that there’s a continuum of care for older adults, especially those that have disabilities.”
With changes coming down the line, Parsons said that residents need to keep an open mind and embrace progress.
“I come back to the mindset sometimes, we always fear change, but the reality is I think through change, through evolution, that I think we’re going to find ways that are actually going to improve. We have no choice but to change our system for the better. I mean, I don’t hear a lot of comments about how great our system is. Now we all talk about how great the people that make up the system are. I mean, I look at our nursing community. I look at our physicians. I look at other providers. I look at our paramedics. Like we have great people, great, I guess I would say, parts of the system, but we need to improve the system as a whole. And this is one way to look at that and see what can we take from this to move forward.”