A Grand Falls-Windsor family doctor says closing her family practice after 19 years was a difficult decision but necessary for her to focus on larger health-care problems in the province.
Dr. Lynette Powell, the past president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, works in the central Newfoundland health hub — the organ patient clinic — which she said has "huge gaps" at the moment.
"I've just decided to shut down [my practice] because right now it's not sustainable to be as many places as I am. I'm pulled in a bunch of directions," Powell told CBC News on Monday. "You can't do justice to multiple jobs."
Powell said the province's health-care system has steadily deteriorated over the last six to eight months, making it difficult for people working on the front lines. She will continue work in the central Newfoundland health-care hub, and hopes the situation will improve enough for her to reopen her practice.
"We're really seeing really sick people, people who need more care than they're able to access," Powell said.
"We've got some of the lowest pap screening rates right now in central because people don't have any provider to go to. Cancer screening has taken a back seat. We're just really kind of putting out fires now and taking care of the sickest. It's really hard."
Earlier this month, mayors from rural communities on Newfoundland's north and south coasts outlined their concerns with losing community physicians. On the south coast, in the Coast of Bays area, thousands of residents are losing their only physician at the end of the month, leaving emergency health-care services roughly 200 kilometres away in Grand Falls-Windsor.
Last week, Health Minister John Haggie said family medicine is becoming a harder discipline to recruit for.
"Specialties seem to be more interesting. We're working with Memorial [University] to see if we can remedy that," Haggie said.
Haggie said government has increased its efforts in recruiting new doctors, pointing to the 36 recruited in Central Health in the last two years — but that's offset by the loss of 45 physicians.
"That turnover has always been a situation to deal with in rural areas," he said.
"In terms of mitigation in the short term, obviously we recognize the challenge. We've put in place virtual ERs. That's been predominantly in Central [Health] but it has worked in other areas and in Eastern [Health] as well."
Doctors want to help, says Powell
PC health critic Paul Dinn says the problems fall at the feet of the provincial government.
"What we are seeing is a health-care crisis and a crisis of leadership. The minister of health and this Liberal government has had seven years to improve the health-care system but now it is in tatters," Dinn said in a media release Tuesday.
Haggie pointed to $14 million earmarked in this year's budget to develop primary care.
"We've got a strategy. We started this some years ago recognizing it was going to be an increasing problem," he said.
Powell says front-line workers have a bird's eye view of how bad the situation really is, and she has tweeted problems she is witnessing first-hand in central Newfoundland.
"I think a lot of us are on the same page right now and a lot of us are feeling the same pressures," she said. "I think a lot of doctors are in the same mindset as me: they want to help [but] they don't know where the best place to help is."