N.L. leans on new 'Band-Aid' solution to retain and attract doctors to rural health facilities

·3 min read
Premier Andrew Furey announced new incentives on Thursday in an attempt to retain and recruit doctors to rural Newfoundland and Labrador health-care facilities.  (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Premier Andrew Furey announced new incentives on Thursday in an attempt to retain and recruit doctors to rural Newfoundland and Labrador health-care facilities. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

Just hours after a CBC News report outlining how emergency rooms in several rural towns in Newfoundland and Labrador have collectively been closed for more than five months this year, the provincial government called a news conference to announce efforts to "stabilize pressures in rural health facilities."

It's a concerted effort between government, the health authorities and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association to address staff shortages, recruit and retain doctors and shore up rural emergency rooms, where on any given day patients could be told they have to go elsewhere.

The province is throwing some money at the problem, increasing compensation for doctors covering ERs in smaller rural health centres to get them closer to what their counterparts working in urban hospitals are making.

It's a temporary measure, however, running until Oct. 31 with the goal of retaining existing physicians at rural sites and attracting other locum physicians during periods of vacancy.

Doctors will be paid up to $800 a day more to work shifts in smaller rural emergency departments.

"Sometimes you need a Band-Aid. You need to stop the bleed and you need to move forward. So in the acute issue at hand I think incentives is one of the levers that we have to help stop the bleed," Premier Andrew Furey told reporters during Thursday's news conference.

"We are working on medium and long-term solutions, there's no question. That will take some time. Training a physician takes time. Recruiting physicians around the country and from international communities takes time."

Furey said Thursday's announcement is about stabilizing the health-care system in the short-term — one that's been under extreme pressure since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is looking to rebound, in a sustainable order, as the world moves forward.

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

Dr. Kris Luscombe, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, called Thursday's announcement a positive, but also a reactive, measure put together quickly to solve an on-the-ground problem.

"The funding, of course, will now make these Category B hospitals ... much more attractive," Luscombe said.

"It really signals to me that there's a demonstrated value for that work and a commitment now to make these places much more desirable, sustainable and to reward those physicians that are doing the work."

Well past the Band-Aid stage: Opposition

Further, Luscombe said the additional compensation makes Newfoundland and Labrador much more competitive in the medical labour market.

"It starts sending a signal nationally that we're open for business, we're a good place to work," he said.

But the opposition Progressive Conservatives say physician shortages in rural areas should have been addressed long ago.

PC MHA Paul Dinn told reporters hemorrhaging rural physicians isn't a new problem in N.L.

"We are well past the Band-Aid solution stage. We should be at the stage where we are coming up with more permanent, full-time solutions that address the issues that we saw coming for many years," he said.

"I'm also unsure of why it took so long to come up with what appears to be a very simple solution to an issue."

Overall, Dinn said, Thursday's announcement was positive but it won't solve all of the health-care system's issues. He said he'll continue to meet with the NLMA and other stakeholders to hear about their ideas and concerns.

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