Germain in Haiti: A pointed question about medical access

After seeing the work that Team Broken Earth doctors and nurses have done for a full week in Haiti, Anthony Germain wonders why the media have such little access to medical professionals at home.
Surgeons Andrew Furey, Frank Noftall (behind Furey), anesthesiologist Frank Noel and nurse Karen Whitten perform complex hip surgery. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

[Anthony Germain is nearing the end a week-long assignment covering Team Broken Earth, a group of Newfoundland and Labrador nurses and doctors, in Haiti.]

Diary 7

Hospital Bernard Mevs.

I'm going to wake up in St. John's tomorrow and ask myself: "What just happened?" But … why wait?

What happened this week was made possible because of unrestricted access. Videographer Keith Burgess and I could go anywhere, any time and interview and record anyone who gave consent. 

I hope the communications department and management at Eastern Health across the Parkway from the CBC in St. John's took note of this week's stories.

Reconstructive surgeon Art Rideout injects an infant's lip with local anesthetic before the first operation required to repair her cleft palate. (Anthony Germain/CBC)
Putting aside the Haitian context, what you saw on display were the remarkable medical skills of Newfoundland and Labrador professionals who take care of us when we need it the most. 

We had to travel a great distance to discover genuine "transparency," the buzzword in the communications world for the past decade.

The procedures Keith and I covered here were not paid for by our tax dollars. Team Broken Earth's fundraising and the time the volunteers take off at their own expense make these trips happen. 

I know when we return home it will be difficult, if not impossible, to ever come anywhere close to providing this kind of coverage of what our nurses and doctors actually do.

Patient confidentiality must be a respected founding principle of the disclosure practices of medical information to journalists. However, even in cases where patients are willing to waive their privacy rights, genuine access remains difficult.

Any direct request I have made (as a first step) to Eastern Health — at all levels — has been followed by an eye-rolling explanation of the bureaucratic hurdles needed for approval for interviews.

A new chief will soon be chosen to run Eastern Health. I'd like to wish outgoing CEO Vicky Kaminski all the best in her new role in Alberta.

Kaminski has never turned down any of my interview requests, but the general availability of a CEO is not transparency.

And that's a pity.

It should be possible to report on what our nurses and doctors do without having to fly thousands of kilometres to see their skills and hear their words.

Dr. Andrew Furey visits local hospitals and surveys X-rays of Haitian patients at a state hospital. Some of these patients have been living with broken bones for months. The Broken Earth team gets them into their OR the next day. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

About the Author

Anthony Germain

CBC News

Anthony Germain cohosts Here & Now in Newfoundland and Labrador. He is a former host of the St. John's Morning Show and CBC Radio's The House, and is CBC's former correspondent in China.