Eastern Health is now asking people to stay away from St. John's emergency rooms unless absolutely necessary.
As doctor shortages force numerous emergency room closures in Newfoundland and Labrador, Eastern Health says it has put extra stress on emergency departments in the capital city.
In a statement, the health authority says both the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in St. John's are dealing with "unprecedented pressures resulting in long wait times for patients."
To provide much-needed relief to the system, Eastern Health is asking the public to consider "alternate options" before proceeding to the emergency room, such as visiting a primary health provider or walk-in clinic. In addition, residents are encouraged to call the 811 NL HealthLine if they are unsure if illness warrants emergency services, or if experiencing a mental health crisis.
However, even this alternative has its problems.
A study released by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association in June said that 125,000 people, or around a quarter of the province, does not have access to a primary health care provider or family doctor.
Additionally, walk-in clinics have not been immune to staff shortages. At the same time of Eastern Health's release, the Mundy Pond Community Walk-in Clinic in St. John's has had its hours reduced "due to current human resource challenges."
The health authority says anyone experiencing a medical emergency requiring an ambulance should continue to call 911 at this time.
Temporary closures without end
The news comes as little shock to many residents in the province. The 'temporary closure' of the Dr. William H. Newhook Health Centre in Whitbourne recently extended into its 12th week, while a total of 8 emergency departments were closed across the province over the Labour Day weekend.
Hilda Whelan, mayor of Whitbourne, spoke with CBC News last week about the health-care crisis in her community and others, saying that while she hopes the situation improves over time, there are many left struggling that need assistance now.
"All these people that are out there not getting these issues attended to, they're getting sicker and they're going to take more time and more doctors to look after them.
"Everyone is very, very disappointed," said Whelan. "Townspeople have been asking her what they should do if an urgent emergency arises. Her response is simple: "All you can do is pray it doesn't happen."