Nfld. & Labrador

Heartbreak on Bell Island as long-term-care patients transferred to St. John's amid pandemic

A decision to move patients from Bell Island's hospital to St. John's has sparked powerful emotions and fears.

People on the island, where 5 residents have been infected, fear they'll lose loved ones and their hospital

Ambulances and buses line up outside the Bell Island hospital to transfer long-term-care patients to St. John's on Tuesday. (Mary Delaney/Facebook)

A decision to move long-term care patients from Bell Island's hospital to St. John's has sparked powerful emotions and fears among the island's residents.

"This COVID-19 is hard enough because we are no longer allowed to visit our loved ones in hospital. We get that, we understand that," said Bell Island resident Brian Hickey, whose 90-year-old grandmother was one of the nine patients transferred off the island.

I have a real fear that my nan is going to have an insurmountable time adjusting.- Brian Hickey

"But to take them out of our community, in my opinion and many others here on Bell Island, is cruel and unnecessary."

Hickey says there was deep sadness among family member who saw off their loved ones as they left Bell Island Tuesday morning. The Bell Island patients were taken to the Chancellor Park facility in St. John's.

"It is heartbreaking," said Hickey.

"There was a convoy of ambulances and buses leaving the hospital this morning, and some family members drove to the beach, waving to their loved ones as they boarded the ferry."

Hickey said that even though COVID-19 has meant family members can't visit the home, it helped to know that staff there are taking good care of the elderly patients.

"The local nurses and health-care workers stepped up to ensure their patients were looked after and still had that sense of familiarity," he said.

"Now that this familiarity and routine has been taken from them, I have a real fear that my nan is going to have an insurmountable time adjusting."

The families' greatest fear is that the move is the beginning of a process of closing Bell Island's hospital and that their loved ones will never move back to the island, even after restrictions are lifted.

"Rumours started surfacing that this was the first step the provincial government is taking in down grading our Bell Island hospital. Many of us are worried, not only for our senior family members, but whether or not we will still have a hospital at the end of the day,"  said Hickey.

Virus has reached Bell Island

Five people on Bell Island have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and the long-term-care patients, who are among those most likely to become seriously ill if infected by the virus, live in a home attached to the Island's hospital.

The mayor of Wabana, on Bell Island, said provincial health officials told him the elderly patients were transferred to St. John's to protect their safety.

Wabana Mayor Gary Gosine says he's been assured long-term patients will come back to Bell Island after restrictions are lifted. File photo. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"Our hospital has an emergency unit, and health officials are afraid of cross-contamination from there to the long-term-care patients," said Gary Gosine.

Gosine said he has been giving assurances by provincial officials that the patients will return to Bell Island and its hospital will continue to operate after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

"They said there won't be any cutbacks and this definitely isn't the beginning of the end of the facility," he said.

"The hospital is the biggest employer on our island and it's the lifeline for all our medical needs for our residents."

Gosine said he was initially against the idea of transferring long-term-care patients off the island but says that if it is truly the best way to protect their health, he supports it.

"It will be a jubilant day when they come home and their families can be with them again and cherish them," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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