The Bonavista E.R. keeps closing. Every week, these residents rally against their 'nightmare'

Each week, a group of Bonavista residents hold a rally protesting the state of health care in their community. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Each week, a group of Bonavista residents hold a rally protesting the state of health care in their community. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

The sound of honking filled the air near the Bonavista hospital at lunchtime on Wednesday.

About 10 Bonavista residents, braving the freezing rain, marched down the road holding signs displaying slogans like "Honk for hospital," and "We stand together."

Jessie Brown said the current state of health care in Bonavista is "a nightmare."

"It's an awful feeling," she said. "I mean, I've lived here all my life and I've never seen it like this, where you had your hospital closed."

Residents have been regularly protesting since last summer, when the town's emergency department began periodically closing.

The emergency room at the Bonavista hospital, which serves about 8,000 people in the community and the surrounding area, reopened Wednesday after a week-long closure, but not for long. The emergency room is scheduled to close again on Saturday.

When the emergency room in Bonavista shuts down, anyone who experiences a medical emergency has to drive to Clarenville — an extra 90 minutes of driving time, and that's when conditions are good. Other services, like dialysis and chemotherapy, also shut down when no doctor or nurse practitioner is available to operate them.

Darrell Robert/CBC
Darrell Robert/CBC

Brown said she worries about her 80-year-old mother.

"It's just the two of us," she said. "It's scary. Like, if she gets a cold I'm afraid."

Brown has considered leaving the community where she's lived her whole life.

"I really don't think I'm gonna stay if things don't get better. It's too stressful."

'The community can't operate'

Joshua Kane, who also grew up in Bonavista, attends the protests on his lunch break every Wednesday. He said the impact of rolling closures is heartbreaking to witness.

"I find it really hard for our community when we got to stand here and fight for our hospital — it's not good."

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Gail Brown, a Bonavista health-care advocate, is one of the organizers behind the weekly protests.

"All of our families, friends are here living and if you don't have a hospital here, really, the community can't operate," she said.

The group is holding a town hall meeting next week.

"We want to know that the people's concerns are taken care of," she said.

Attracting, retaining

Rural communities across Newfoundland and Labrador are grappling with a shortage of health-care workers. According to the province's medical association, about 136,000 residents don't have a family doctor.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposed a new health-care deal, under which Newfoundland and Labrador could get an additional $100 million in health-care funding.

While Newfoundland and Labrador competes with other provinces to retract and retain doctors, communities within the province are competing, too.

Last week, the Bonavista town council announced plans to offer land and signing bonuses to doctors who agree to come to the community.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador