Bonavista MHA Craig Pardy says he was disturbed to hear about a man who died in an ambulance on the way to Clarenville while the Bonavista emergency room was closed.
According to his daughter, Shelley Gosselin, 78-year-old Charles Marsh went to the Bonavista emergency room on Feb. 19 because he was having an asthma attack. The hospital was closed, meaning anyone having a medical emergency had to travel to Clarenville — more than 100 kilometres away.
Gosselin said her father died the next morning in an ambulance on the way to Clarenville.
On Wednesday, Pardy said he was saddened by the story — but not surprised.
"It wasn't something that we weren't expecting," he said. "If someone were in dire need of emergency attendance … only to go to the local hospital and find the doors locked, one would sometimes know that an hour and a half is not going to be suitable for that particular patient."
Marsh's death comes after months of emergency room closures in Bonavista, which became even more frequent In February.
"The gentleman did try to access health care locally here, only to find the doors locked. And that is the disturbing part of the story here," Pardy said.
Until last year, Pardy said, those closures would have been unheard of.
"We never would have imagined that to be the case. I think it's a condemnation of the system," he said.
Levelling the playing field
Bonavista residents have organized weekly protests and are holding a town hall meeting focused on health care on Wednesday night. Bonavista's town council has announced plans to offer additional financial incentives and land to doctors who agree to move to the town.
Eastern Health won't comment on Marsh's death, but in a statement a spokesperson said the health authority has secured staff for the Bonavista room for 19 days in March so far and is working on staffing more days.
The emergency room in Bonavista was open Wednesday but was scheduled to close for a day on Thursday morning.
Pardy said the scheduled coverage is positive but he wants the provincial government to respond — and offer more money to convince doctors to move to places like Bonavista.
"There are things that government can do to make it on a level playing field, not only to make it more attractive by an incremental amount, but in order to give us parity with those in other regions."
CBC News asked for an interview with provincial Health Minister Tom Osborne, but spokesperson Laura Thomas responded with a statement. The statement offered condolences to Marsh's family, but Thomas said the department couldn't specifically comment on Marsh's case due to privacy laws.
Thomas said there is a focus on recruiting personnel for the Bonavista emergency room.
"The department, in partnership with the regional health authorities, remains focused on recruitment initiatives for both urban and rural locations across Newfoundland and Labrador," said Thomas.
CBC News has also asked Premier Andrew Furey for comment.
Bonavista isn't the only community where the emergency room keeps closing — over the past year, emergency rooms in several towns across the Eastern Health and Central Health regions have closed repeatedly.
Newfoundland and Labrador also recorded a five-year-high in emergency department deaths — 326 — in 2022.
When the emergency room in New-Wes-Valley closes, residents have to travel 120 kilometres for emergency medical assistance at the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre in Gander.
Michael Tiller, mayor of New-Wes-Valley, says the closures have residents stressed.
"They're worried that if they do get sick and it's something serious, will they even be able to get to James Paton?" he said.
Tiller, who's also a paramedic, said it's a "miracle" that more people haven't died while their local emergency room was closed.
"Every patient is different, every situation is different. But I'm sure that any delay in treatment would, you know, could very well result in the negative outcome," he said.
According to a Central Health press release, the emergency room in New-Wes-Valley closed at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The emergency room is scheduled to reopen for six hours of virtual care on Thursday, before closing again until at least Saturday.
But Tiller said the situation in New-Wes-Valley is improving — though it isn't totally fixed.
"Diversions are not as frequent, not at all as what they used to be, and that's a good thing, of course, but we are having periods of a day here or a couple days there where we are on diversion," he said.