Nfld. & Labrador

Bay d'Espoir protesters start blockade to press demand for medical service

People in the St. Alban's area blocked a road Tuesday morning to send a message to the provincial government about the state of medical services in the area.

No emergency services for almost a month is unacceptable, say locals

Organizers say hundreds of people turned out for the protest Tuesday morning. (Submitted by Rhonda Harding)

A group of protesters in the Bay d'Espoir area stepped up their campaign for medical services with a vocal demonstration that blocked hydro work Tuesday morning. 

"We have been 28 days without any emergency services," said Rhonda Harding, a St. Alban's resident and one of the protest organizers.

Harding said hundreds of residents from the Bay d'Espoir and Conne River region turned out before 8 a.m. at the road leading to the Bay d'Espoir hydro station in St. Veronica's, as RCMP and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro officials looked on.

The crowd was united in their frustrations over the continued staffing shortages at the St. Alban's clinic. 

The clinic closed its emergency services earlier this month, when the Central Health regional authority cited a lack of physicians.

The clinic's emergency services were disrupted in April for the same reason.

Without the clinic's emergency service after hours and on weekends, residents have to travel to Harbour Breton or Grand Falls-Windsor — each more than 100 kilometres away — for help. 

The protesters hope to shine a light on the lack of emergency services in the Bay d'Espoir area, where ambulances must travel more than 100 kilometres on evenings and weekends for critical care. (Submitted by Rhonda Harding)

'She stopped breathing'

One of the protesters said the unthinkable happened to her 13-year-old daughter two weeks ago.

"She stopped breathing in my arms, in our bathroom," recalled Robyn House.

House, a paramedic who was on call at the time, says it was anaphylactic shock. House kept her daughter's airway open as she went into a seizure, asking an off-duty coworker next door for backup. Together they called an ambulance and requested to be taken to Grand Falls-Windsor, as the ambulance normally directs patients to Harbour Breton, a clinic with fewer services and in the opposite direction.

People are going to die on Route 360.- Robyn House

"There's no amount of training in this world that prepares you for the possibility of losing your child," she said, still shaken by the event.

"It's scary, and currently I'm not working this week. I'm terrified to be at work while my daughter's home."

For Harding, the last few weeks without emergency services have been tense ones, as she said her husband has developed a heart condition. The couple is now considering relocating to St. John's to be closer to a hospital.

"If we stay in Bay d'Espoir, if he has a heart attack, it's likely he wouldn't make it," she said.

Ambulances currently take patients in the St. Alban's area to Harbour Breton, more than 100 kilometres away, or to Grand Falls-Windsor, more than 170 kilometres away. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Getting attention

Harding and House both hope the protest attracts the attention of Central Health officials as well as Health Minister John Haggie, and puts pressure on them to increase services before it's too late.

"People are going to die on Route 360," said House. 

House said blocking access to the hydro station, which supplies a large chunk of power to the island of Newfoundland, shows how important the Bay d'Espoir region is to the rest of the province.

She did not expect power disruptions to customers as a result of the protest, but said they were prepared to stay on scene until the provincial government pays attention

About 3,200 people live in the area serviced by the clinic.

Central Health currently has job postings open for a family physician and two nurse practitioners to staff the clinic.

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