Nfld. & Labrador

Bell Island will be 'in crisis' when last doctor leaves in December, warns pharmacist

A pharmacist on Bell Island says she's concerned about her patients as the island's final doctor prepares to leave the area in December.

Patients are overwhelmed, says Kara O'Keefe, and unless a replacement is found, things will get worse

Pharmacist Kara O'Keefe, who works at the only drugstore on Bell Island, is concerned about her patients, as the island's only doctor is leaving in December. (Submitted)

A pharmacist on Bell Island says she's concerned about her patients as the island's final doctor prepares to leave the area in December.

According to Kara O'Keefe, a pharmacist working at the Family Drug Mart on the island, the loss will leave the island without a general practitioner doctor. The island's only two other physicians retired last month.

"Myself and most residents, and our patients here at the pharmacy are feeling alarmed and very overwhelmed right now. Because as of right now, we don't have a replacement physician," O'Keefe told The St. John's Morning Show on Friday.

About one in five Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are currently without a family doctor, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

Without a doctor, O'Keefe said, she fears residents will be left without options for treatment for common burdens such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol among the island's older population.

She said it would also affect the town's emergency room, along with other key services like an addictions site and long-term care.

"Simply put, you cannot have those services without a physician," O'Keefe said. "Physicians are integral quarterbacks of the health-care system. And without having them present in our communities, then a lot of those services simply won't be viable."

O'Keefe says the lack of a general practitioner will have a big impact on the region, including at the Dr. Walter Templeman Health Centre. (Katie Breen/CBC)

O'Keefe said the town is aware of an application process started by Eastern Health to try to find a new physician for the island but as far as she knows no one has put their name forward.

In a statement to CBC News on Friday evening, Eastern Health confirmed the remaining physician on the island is resigning effective Dec. 31, and that recruitment efforts are underway — including having a recruiter working with Memorial University's faculty of medicine.

"We are committed to delivering the most appropriate care to meet residents' needs and are actively recruiting physicians for Bell Island, with the goal of ensuring that services continue uninterrupted," the department said.

O'Keefe said pharmacists are prepared to help where they can, but says they aren't often used to the extent other provinces use pharmacists.

For example, she said, some other Canadian provinces allow pharmacists to assist in the treatment of diabetes or prescribe medication for uncomplicated sexually transmitted infections.

That's something O'Keefe said she would like change in the province, along with a stronger commitment to prioritizing rural medicine.

"Right now, we are in a crisis. In my opinion, it's gone past the point of sitting down and consulting with people and having board room meetings. We need a physician now, there needs to be an urgent call put out," she said.

"Whether that means providing someone with a house to come live in when they're on Bell Island … or giving someone a bonus to come to rural Newfoundland, something like that needs to be done. Because by December, our community is going to be in crisis."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show


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