Nfld. & Labrador

As their doctors leave, more rural Newfoundland towns are facing a future without a physician

With more rural Newfoundland communities facing a future without a physician, their mayors and the union that represents the province's doctors in the province are demanding government action.

Doctors are overworked with little relief, say mayors

Fogo Island Mayor Andrew Shea says he had no idea his community's doctor was leaving until he heard about it on the radio. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

With more rural Newfoundland communities facing a future without a physician, their mayors and the union that represents the province's doctors in the province are demanding government action. 

A large swath of communities on the island's south coast will be without its only doctor at the end of the month, and emergency services will have to be diverted over 200 kilometres away. 

Communities in central Newfoundland and along the island's north coast are facing the same struggle, and at least two mayors were unaware their towns were losing their only physicians until recently. 

"I heard a news release on the radio yesterday. I didn't hear anything about it before that. That was the first," Fogo Island Mayor Andrew Shea told CBC News on Tuesday. 

"It was unbelievable that it would come to us in such a way. They could have give us some notice or some time to work on this to see if there's anything that we could have done."

Buchans Mayor Brian Fowlow said he heard the news through the grapevine and there was no official notice from Central Health that the community was losing its doctor. 

"If we were informed a little earlier maybe there's something we can do as a community to help, but without that information it's tough to react," Fowlow said.

'Tip of the iceberg'

Shea said the community's doctor has had a hard time recently, being on call day and night and having difficulty finding a temporary replacement to fill the gap so he can take time off. 

"It's been really tough on him and he's done a pretty good job here considering the situation he's in," said Shea. 

Shea said he believes the doctor doesn't want to leave the community but the challenging situation and lack of relief have left him with no choice

Residents have been availing of virtual care through the hospital in Gander, he said.

Shea says other aspects of Fogo Island, such as the ferry service, will be affected when the community is left without a doctor. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Fowlow said Buchans had a long-term doctor who left last year. Now the replacement is leaving — and he doesn't blame her. 

"The situation is similar to Fogo: overworked and not a lot of relief," he said. 

Fowlow said losing a doctor is just the "tip of the iceberg" for his region, as Buchans is also losing its nurse practitioner and there's been a paramedic job vacancy there for over a year. 

Shea said his community's doctor leaving will have impacts elsewhere: the island's ferry service will get tied up with emergency transportation, and the recruitment of workers in other sectors will struggle. 

"Like everywhere we have an aging population, we have an older population. We've had a doctor here since 1792, I think," he said. 

"Right now you'd think we'd have a better medicare system than you ever had [but] we have nothing. We don't even have a nurse practitioner."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning

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