As a short-term fix ends without a long-term solution, Bell Island is losing its last doctor — again

·2 min read
Bell Island will be without a doctor after Friday.  (Submitted by Dean and Heather Clouthier - image credit)
Bell Island will be without a doctor after Friday. (Submitted by Dean and Heather Clouthier - image credit)
Submitted by Dean and Heather Clouthier
Submitted by Dean and Heather Clouthier

Residents of Bell Island are about to be left without a family doctor again after a communitywide effort to entice the last physician who left to return — and stay — didn't go according to plan.

The island, in Conception Bay off Newfoundland's northeast Avalon Peninsula, had three physicians in 2021. By the end of year it had none.

Dr. Firas Ayar returned in April for an 11-week contract. Residents credited their own efforts — modelled after the film The Grand Seduction, in which a small Newfoundland town tries to convince a doctor to relocate there — for Ayar's return, and hoped a more permanent solution would be worked out by the time his 11 weeks were up.

But a permanent fix hasn't been found. Friday is Ayar's last day, which is distressing news for Bell Island resident Ken Kavanagh, who has spearheaded the community effort to find doctors for the island.

Kavanagh said the community was fortunate to have Ayar come back, even if it wasn't permanently.

"Eleven weeks ago we had such a positive and hopeful event in this community with the return of Dr. Ayar," he said.

"I'm afraid to tell the people of Bell Island it's probably now more leaning toward the grand rejection."

He claims Eastern Health made an offer to the doctor for a permanent placement, although the health authority has not confirmed an offer was made. CBC News has asked Eastern Health for comment.

Kavanagh blames the health authority for the departure of Ayar, who spent eight years working on Bell Island as a family physician previous to his recent 11 weeks.

"Eastern Health dropped the ball," said Kavanagh.

'It wasn't good enough'

Kavanagh also criticized the province's effort to attract and retain physicians in general, not just to Bell Island.

"If this is the process by which they retain a doctor then no wonder we're in the crisis that we're in and what chance do we have in the future if we couldn't retain one doctor in one small community?" he said.

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