Reminiscent to a scene from “The Grand Seduction”, the development, tourism and culture committee suggested spiffing up the doctor’s lounge at the James Paton Memorial Hospital to create a positive space for staff.
Gander mayor Claude Elliott was visibly taken aback by the suggestion, as were a number of other councillors.
“I totally disagree with doing up a room at the hospital,” said Elliott.
Councillor Sarah McBreairty, the chair for the committee, said the suggestion came out of a meeting with the town’s physician recruitment and retention working group.
McBreairty said the idea merits consideration.
“There may be some disagreements among various people whether this is the responsibility of the town or not but I think that this came out of the working group,” said McBreairty. “We want to make sure it is something we look at seriously.”
The group, which includes doctors and hospital staff, works with the town to discuss ideas to attract and keep health care professionals in the Gander area.
McBreairty highlighted the need to think creatively to find ways to keep doctors in the region, adding it is important to keep an open mind when discussing retention strategies.
“We can’t point fingers and say it’s not our responsibility,” she said.
The committee’s report suggests the current doctor’s lounge is “bland and quite uninviting.”
Some ideas on how to improve the space include loaning the hospital art acquired under the Town of Gander’s art procurement program.
The hospital is currently reviewing the associated costs with upgrading the lounge and the project will be brought forward during the town’s 2018 budget process.
“You need to know what the dollar figure is before we can decide where the money’s coming from,” said McBreairty.
The mayor responds
Elliott, who has been Gander’s mayor for 21 years, and involved with council for 27 years, said he has never heard of a town directly paying to upgrade a provincial government building.
“I don’t think that’s going to keep doctors in Gander. When you start using tax payers’ dollars to go into a provincial government building and starting spending money, you’re setting a bad precedent, in my opinion,” he said.
Elliott was visibly animated when the report was presented in council and said that he could hardly believe the suggestion.
“I was sort of shocked,” he said, adding, “In saying that, we want to make doctors stay in Gander but I’m not sure this is the right road for council to go.”
Both Elliott and McBreairty spoke to the importance of attracting and retaining physicians in Gander but the mayor preferred to emphasize community involvement as a key to retention.
“It’s always been a struggle keeping doctors,” said Elliott, who noted that he’d seen a lot of doctors come and go during his tenure as mayor. He acknowledges the need to be creative in helping to keep doctors in town.
However, there are limits.
“I would never support putting tax payers’ money in (the hospital’s) infrastructure,” he said. “(It) concerns me.”
Central Health welcomes help
Gaïtane Villeneuve, director of communications for Central Health, noted that all assistance from the Town of Gander is appreciated.
“Their interest in exploring ways to support physician retention at James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre is appreciated, and we thank them for their ongoing support and partnership,” wrote Villeneuve via email.
She also noted that the town has been a long-time supporter of the Central Northeast Health Foundation.