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Action committee to fight for services at St. Anthony hospital

Dean Strangemore of St. Anthony initiated the Save Our Hospital Action Committee, a Facebook group allowing locals to express concerns about and advocate for better services at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital.
Dean Strangemore of St. Anthony initiated the Save Our Hospital Action Committee, a Facebook group allowing locals to express concerns about and advocate for better services at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital. - Stephen Roberts

Various concerns raised by group

ST. ANTHONY, N.L. —

Residents from all over the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador are concerned about what's happening at their regional hospital in St. Anthony.

Many of them are making those concerns known through a Facebook group created by Dean Strangemore, a concerned resident of St. Anthony.

Strangemore started the group on Feb. 10. Four days later, the group had attained over 1,400 members, some of them expressing concerns and sharing their stories about their experiences at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital.

Strangemore, a snowplow operator, is just one of many residents who want to ensure a future for themselves and their families in St. Anthony and on the Great Northern Peninsula.

And health care is a major part of that.

“I’m only young, my parents are getting older, my brother is here – he has kids, I’m here – I got a kid, and I don’t want to see our services cut because we deserve to live in this town,” he told The Northern Pen. “I’m hoping this is where I can grow old and I’m just tired that every time there’s an announcement about our hospital, it’s a cut, it’s not an addition. And it’s making everything worse.”

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Strangemore is currently organizing an in-person committee of seven to nine members, through which he is hoping to organize weekly meetings where they will discuss ways to advocate and push Labrador-Grenfell Health (LGH), the health authority, for improved services at the hospital.

Many of the other details are still left to be ironed out, but Strangemore says he wants to save as many services and re-gain any lost services or positions.

For instance, eight acute care beds were cut from the hospital in 2018 and Strangemore believes these need to be returned to address health care needs.

Concerns were also raised through the Facebook group about staffing levels and whether nurses were being overworked.

Labrador-Grenfell Health was contacted by The Northern Pen but the organization was unavailable for comment at this time.

This is the first article in a series looking into health care services at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital. Look to next week’s edition for a report on nursing and staffing levels at the facility. If you have stories to share regarding this subject, please email The Northern Pen at info@northernpen.ca or call the office at 709-454-2191.

A better structure for health care?

St. Anthony resident John Budgell served as the final CEO of Grenfell Regional Health from 1997-2004.

That health authority covered the area of the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador that is now under the jurisdiction of Labrador-Grenfell Health.

In 2003, Budgell says he was asked whether he felt the region would be better off joining Labrador or Western Health.

He preferred Labrador at the time, given the historical and cultural links.

He also had the hope that joining up with Labrador would mean more referrals from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to St. Anthony.

"We tried hard, in my time, to take on more referrals from Goose Bay because we had the capacity to take them, but it never happened," he told The Northern Pen.

But even after combining into Labrador-Grenfell Health in 2005, the increase in referrals have never come.

Furthermore, he didn't foresee so much of the senior management team being moved from St. Anthony to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and that the hospital would still have access to a broader array of specialties.

In hindsight, Budgell now thinks they would have been better off merging with Western Health.

But he feels the best answer is to have a single board for the entire province.

"The Department of Health pretty well runs things, more directly than they did in years past," he said.

Under this arrangement, there'd be one board and one CEO for the whole province as well as one senior administration official responsible on the ground in each of the five regions - Labrador, Grenfell Region, Western Newfoundland, Central Newfoundland, and Eastern Newfoundland.

Each official would report back to the CEO.

"I think it would speed up decision making, it would also take away some of the territoriality that exists now, and people would develop a greater sense of loyalty to the region they work for," he said.

Some concerns about Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital

Staffing levels – seven registered nurses have resigned in the past eight months, seven more are slated to retire by the end of 2019, per the Registered Nurses Union Newfoundland and Labrador

Retaining staff – concerns have been raised that nurses are overworked, and it hurts their ability to provide care effectively. A former staffing clerk says this also affects the morale of staff at the hospital, contributing to more turnover amongst staff.

Recruitment troubles – St. Anthony, like other rural and remote hospitals and clinics throughout Labrador-Grenfell Health and the province, faces challenges recruiting new staff to fill vacant positions. The local economy, infrastructure and geography all contribute to the issue.

Referrals – Dean Strangemore, organizer of the Save Our Hospital Action Committee, believes the hospital could be taking more referrals from Goose Bay and Labrador; instead St. John’s is seeing many of these patients. He’s concerned it’s hurting the hospital’s statistics.

Number of beds – eight acute care beds were cut from the hospital in 2018. Strangemore believes these are needed and should be returned.

Lab tests – Strangemore believes more lab tests can be conducted in St. Anthony instead of being sent out to St. John’s.

Specialists – Strangemore is also concerned about the number of specialists that have been lost in recent years. For instance, he says they have recently lost both paediatricians but LGH is currently advertising for one paediatrician for Happy Valley-Goose Bay and another paediatrician with the location listed as "To be determined".

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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