Health critic says ER problems need quick fix — but the minister says there isn't one

·3 min read
Health Minister Tom Osborne says the provincial government is working hard to recruit health-care professionals, but so are other jurisdictions.  (CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Tom Osborne says the provincial government is working hard to recruit health-care professionals, but so are other jurisdictions. (CBC - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne says alleviating emergency room pressures in the province's capital city won't be an overnight fix.

Emergency rooms in St. John's hospitals are facing "unprecedented pressures" and long wait times, according to Eastern Health in a statement, issued Saturday, that asked the public to stay away unless they were experiencing medical emergencies.

The problem stems from staff shortages across the province, from physicians to nurses, and patients seeking medical attention who don't have access to family doctors.

"Every province is facing the same challenge so we're all competing for the same health-care professionals, which makes it difficult," Osborne said Tuesday.

"But we are putting in place very competitive packages. It's not going to be fixed overnight, but we're working on it."

Osborne said emergency rooms at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare's Mercy Hospital — along with the health-care system as a whole — are still feeling pressure on Tuesday.

In fact, both hospitals are currently operating in double overcapacity, per the health authority.

"There are many factors that contribute to the decision to implement an overcapacity protocol, including the volume of patients arriving at the emergency department, the acuity of their health care needs and the availability of inpatient beds within the hospital," said Eastern Health in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday afternoon.

For non-emergencies, patients are being asked to consider contacting their primary care provider, calling 811 or going to a walk-in clinic.

But PC MHA Paul Dinn, opposition health critic, says that's not good enough — and a quick solution to fixing the province's health-care woes is exactly what's needed.

"It's certainly a desperate time," Dinn said. "To be told not to go to an ER and to have potential patients triaging themselves, it says a lot for where our health-care [system] has gone."


Dinn said he has heard of patients receiving medial attention in hospital hallways in Bonavista and others dying while laying on mattresses.

He said he questions whether there is an urgency from government to fill the recruitment gaps.

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

"People deserve better here," he said.

"The stuff we've known for so long, that we're an aging population and all this, and government hasn't had a plan to deal with this. We have to really start coming up with some quick, effective solutions."

He's calling for collaboration within the House of Assembly to help right the ship.

Osborne said the province has been working with the varying health-care unions and colleges to address staffing shortages.

He said interviews are ongoing to fill the province's health-care recruitment and retention office, and each health authority has added resources to their own recruitment staff.

He said more incentives are on the way to attract more health-care professionals to the province but didn't give details on what that will look like.

"We understand the pressures that they're facing. We are working hard to get additional health-care professionals to help you lift the load," said Osborne.

"Health-care professionals have lifted a heavy load over that last couple of years. They're are getting tired, no different than any other province."

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