Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor calls for Labrador-only health authority

Wally Andersen believes Labrador has outgrown a historic relationship and needs dedicated resources.

"We're not going to go and divide and conquer ... but we want a better a service"

Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen says there should be more hospital beds and specialists in Labrador. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is calling for a reorganization of regional health boards across the province and the creation of a Labrador health authority.

Wally Andersen says too many resources are concentrated in Labrador-Grenfell Health's island locations — namely, the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony.

This morning, we talk to mayor Wally Andersen about the way health resources are doled out in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region (00:54). Then, back by popular demand, Happy Valley- Goose Bay is planning a winter carnival (11:08). We head to Husky Park to find out why there are red dresses hanging in the trees (16:55). Finally, we get the details on a new environmental group in the province, and their upcoming Muskrat Falls symposium (23:10). 33:29

"We're not going to go and divide and conquer," the mayor began, "we want to work with all the stakeholders, but we want a better a service."

Labrador's healthcare ties to the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland date back to the early 1900s, when medical missionary Wilfred Grenfell established clinics in St. Anthony and coastal Labrador.  

But Andersen believes Labrador has outgrown the historic relationship, and needs dedicated resources.

"We're not putting Happy Valley-Goose Bay or Labrador against St. Anthony. It's just that we honestly and truly believe that at the hospital here … we need a good healthcare service," he said.

High birth rate

The mayor points to birth rates to back up his argument. Andersen said sources inside the healthcare system told him there were 98 babies born in Labrador West last year, 350 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and 60 in St. Anthony.

At the same time, Andersen claimed, the only two pediatricians working for Labrador-Grenfell Health are stationed in St. Anthony. He also said Labrador hospitals had a higher ratio of patients-to-beds.

Labrador-Grenfell Health declined an interview, but provided a statement with birth statistics to CBC News on Thursday. 

In an email, interim CEO Barbra Molgaard Blake said the birth rates are lower than the numbers Anderson gave. In 2017, there were 94 babies born in Labrador West, 178 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and 58 in St. Anthony, Molgaard Blake said.

Andersen says far more babies are born in Labrador than on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. Baby Matthew, pictured here in mom Amber Saksagiak's arms, was the first baby born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 2018. (twitter.com/LGHealthNL)

Reached for comment on Thursday, the mayor apologized for getting the numbers wrong, but stuck by his argument. 

"While numbers may change somewhat, the large amount of infants born in Labrador compared to St. Anthony still doesn't justify two pediatricians in St. Anthony and none in Goose Bay or in Labrador," Anderson said. 

Minister 'focused on the needs'

In an interview with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning, N.L. health minister John Haggie said Andersen "raised a very important set of points about location of services and level of services," but he hadn't heard similar concerns from Labrador-Grenfell staff.

"I don't dispute the mayor's concern about the levels of care, but I also have not received any concerns through Labrador-Grenfell on the ground in smaller communities that they have significant, worrisome, unmet needs," Haggie said.  

Health Minister John Haggie says he's not focused on "opening up acts and rewriting governance laws." (Jacob Barker/CBC)

As for reorganizing the province's four health boards, the minister was non-committal.

"I have an equal number of people, for example, who would like to see the province have a single health board," he said.

"I'm much more focused on the needs of the population than I am, necessarily, on opening up acts and rewriting governance laws."  

Andersen concedes that an organizational overhaul may not be necessary if specialists and other resources were moved to Labrador.

"We just want to make sure that we have a good healthcare service, with good, adequate healthcare providers to provide the best service to people in Labrador, which they deserve."

The Labrador-Grenfell Health Authority regularly reviews the services it provides within its mandate, Molgaard Blake said in the provided statement, and puts improvement initiatives in place where appropriate and within its financial ability.

As an example, she cited the reduction of beds in St. Anthony, describing the move as an exercise in "right-sizing" which would improve patient experience in St. Anthony. 

She did not say whether the bed reduction would save money or improve services in other facilities.