Residents of Stephenville Crossing have been short a doctor since last April, after one of the two physicians working in the town retired.
The loss has left many people paying out-of pocket, or driving about 12 kilometres to the emergency room in Stephenville for routine health care needs, according to Dave Kane, a member of the area's health care action committee.
"We've got a lot of seniors that still have no doctor. It really left them in a bad situation, because Dr. [Edwin] Parsons practiced in that clinic for over 30 years. As I understand it he had over 5,000 patients," Kane told the Corner Brook Morning Show on Monday.
Kane said many residents have turned to the emergency department of the Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital in Stephenville to get prescriptions or blood work, sometimes waiting up to 10 hours to see an on-call doctor.
Others have made use of a private clinic in the area, which charges patients for services because it isn't allowed to bill MCP, something Kane said he hasn't been able to get an explanation for.
Filling the gap
Western Health's Vice President of Medical Services, Dennis Rashleigh, says recruitment is underway for a nurse practitioner who will work part time in the medical clinic in Stephenville Crossing and part time in the local long term care facility.
"When Dr. Parsons retired he was a fee-for-service physican, so with respect to funding for the position, there isn't actually a second salaried vacancy in that posiiton. So that's one of the reasons why Western Health has chosen to use a nurse practitioner," Rashleigh said.
"I think combining the nurse practitioner with the family phyisican that's already there will go a long way to meeting the primary care needs of the community."
Kane said the position had not been advertised months after being promised in October, 2016.
"We want to thank Mr Kane for bringing that to our attention," Rashleigh said Tuesday. "We have been talking to people about the position, even if the ad wasn't there, but the ad is now up on our website."
Rashleigh said Western Health has filled a number of positions in the Stephenville area since September.
"Since fall of last year we have actually recruited four new physicians to the Stephenville area. These physicians have set up practice in the area and are accepting new patients."
But Kane said it isn't easy to get an appointment. He said he waited months.
Rashleigh said Western Health is trying to attract two more doctors to the area but recruitment is a challenge. The health authority is offering signing bonuses and also educational bursaries if there is an internal candidate who wants to do the nurse practitioner training.
"It really is important for people to have access to primary care. Western Health believes it's important. I believe it's important."