Newfoundland and Labrador temporarily hikes pay for doctors in rural emergency rooms

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The Newfoundland and Labrador government is temporarily hiking the pay rate for doctors working in the province's rural emergency rooms.

Health Minister Tom Osborne told reporters today the pay increase could amount to as much as $800 a day.

The incentive will be in place until Oct. 31.

Rural health centres across the province have had to intermittently shut down their emergency services because of a lack of doctors.

Dr. Kris Luscombe, president of the province's medical association, says those services are staffed by family doctors who are often asked to manage the workload without much support.

He says the temporary pay hike will fairly compensate the doctors working in rural hospitals and hopefully attract more.

Premier Andrew Furey said he recognizes the measure may seem like a Band-Aid solution to a growing problem.

"I don't take that as a criticism, frankly," he told reporters in St. John's. "Sometimes you need a Band-Aid. You need to stop the bleed and then you need to move forward."

A surgeon himself, Furey said he understands the pressures physicians face when they take on emergency shifts at rural health-care centres. "I had the benefit of having a full hospital around me," Furey said. "But some of these people out there are dealing with everything from coughs and colds to motor vehicle collisions to neurosurgical bleeds, and in a remote area."

He said the province is also working on "medium- and long-term solutions" to address rural doctor shortages.

So far this month, the province's largest health authority has announced more than 12 days of emergency service shutdowns at the health centre in Whitbourne, N.L., about 100 kilometres west of St. John's. Services were also cancelled for two days at the health centre in Bonavista, N.L., a bustling tourist destination that is home to about 3,500 people.

Bonavista Mayor John Norman said in an impassioned Facebook post last month that he felt he should declare a health-care state of emergency because of the emergency services shutdowns plaguing his town.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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