As Whitbourne's emergency room remains closed for a seventh straight week, town leaders are clamouring for action from the provincial government.
With the Dr. H. Newhook Community Health Centre closed, the nearest hospital for residents of the town and surrounding communities is in Carbonear, about 60 kilometres up Veterans Memorial Highway in Conception Bay North. St. John's is 90 kilometres east — nearly an hour down the Trans-Canada Highway.
Whitbourne Mayor Hilda Whelan said she and the town are frustrated by the prolonged closure.
"We have been exceptionally lucky that we haven't had fatalities because of this closure," she said. "Because that clinic has saved a lot of lives that wouldn't have made it to Carbonear or St. John's."
The clinic is closed due to staffing shortages that, Whelan said, need to be addressed by the provincial government. If people were given proper pay and incentives, she said, more doctors would be inclined to work and stay in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"The fact is there are no doctors no matter how much we protest or how much noise we make. They can't give us what we don't have."
Delay of accident care
With the local fire department covering the highway, Whelan said, "that clinic, even with four or five doctors, was steady go."
Whitbourne fire Chief Jamie Budden said he's concerned about emergency care for the area the department covers —a 75-kilometre stretch of highway and multiple communities in the surrounding area.
With no ER in Whitbourne, Budden said, there's a risk people won't be able to get the emergency care they need.
"Your objective is to transfer patient care to a higher level of care in the quickest time possible. Right now, with no emergency room in Whitbourne, that's not happening," he said.
The department deals with a lot of high-impact calls, and the closure means a delay in care, he said.
The calls can be traumatic for both the victims and the firefighters.
"We need our emergency room back," he said.
Whelan had a message for the regional health authority: "Eastern Health, do your job," she said.
"Put the money on the table for our health care. It's the most pressing and concerning issue in this province today," she said.
The clinic will be closed until at least the middle of next week,