Nfld. & Labrador

A staffing crisis left a medical clinic short-handed. A virtual ER has helped bridge the gap

The Green Bay Health Centre is using technology and out-of-town expertise to handle what the Springdale council hopes is a short-term staffing problem.

Town council getting involved in recruiting for new medical talent

A person in a blue suit with a stethoscope around his neck stands in a parking lot in front of a building.
Todd Young is the acting lead physician at Green Bay Health Centre while Central Health recruits doctors to the area. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

On a normal week at the Green Bay Health Centre — which provides medical services to the central Newfoundland town of Springdale and surrounding communities — there should be four full-time physicians on duty. 

These days, there is just one. 

Three of the physicians who had been working there have resigned from the centre, and have moved away. 

"That leaves us quite short," said Dr. Todd Young, who runs his own clinic in the town and has found himself providing services at the clinic. 

That's because the sole full-time doctor had annual leave booked for two weeks, leaving Young alone in the emergency room and responsible for medical services for a region with 9,000 people. 

"I was able to provide that service and cover," he said.

Because of the situation — Young would see his own patients for an hour in the mornings before heading to the centre's emergency room — Central Health introduced what's called virtual ER care, and tapped into medical expertise elsewhere. 

How a virtual ER works 

"For those that are triaged to Level 3, 4 and 5, which is less urgent, would be seen by an emergency room physician from Grand Falls, virtually," Young said. 

"If someone were to come in in the 1 and 2s, more urgent, I would be called."

The one full-time physician is back from holiday, but the virtual conferencing setup in the emergency room is staying.

The Green Bay Health Centre is a new facility in Springdale that officially opened its doors in May. It should have four full-time doctors, but right now, there is only one full-time doctor on staff. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

As long as there are fewer than three full-time physicians on staff, virtual care through the Grand Falls-Windsor emergency room will be offered every third night, so the full-time doctor and Young, who continues to fill in, can get some rest. 

"I'm a fan of virtual care. This is our new reality. I think virtual care in our health-care system is going to be the aspect that exponentially explodes," said Young.

Because so many residents are now without a doctor, Springdale town council has gotten involved with recruitment. Central Health hired a recruitment agency to help find physicians, saying it has been especially challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dave Edison, the mayor of Springdale, says his town now needs to compete with other rural areas for new doctors. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"It is something that has never come up in my 16 years on council," said Mayor Dave Edison.

"It wasn't necessary, but now, all of a sudden we have to look at ways and we have to be creative. We are up against other rural areas that are looking for physicians,"

Edison says Springdale, the hub of the Green Bay area, has everything a young family doctor would need to settle down, including a recreational facility, good schools, a stadium and swimming pools. 

But he believes more has to be done to fix the doctor shortage in rural areas across Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I would even go as far to say our government should invest in our youth and offer reduced education cost for physicians and in turn they offer us 10 or 15 years of their life"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.

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