Health minister preferred St. Anthony site: documents

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AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE

On Sept. 14 last year, provincial Health Minister Jerome Kennedy not only discounted the idea of moving the air ambulance from St. Anthony, he planned to establish a second team of medical flight specialists (MFS) in the community.

The only thing he was waiting on was funding approval.

That's according to minutes of a meeting between officials from the Department of Health, Labrador-Grenfell Health, Eastern Health, and the Department of Transportation and Works, recently obtained by The Northern Pen through a Freedom of Information request.

Jerome Kennedy

St. Anthony -

On Sept. 14 last year, provincial Health Minister Jerome Kennedy not only discounted the idea of moving the air ambulance from St. Anthony, he planned to establish a second team of medical flight specialists (MFS) in the community.

The only thing he was waiting on was funding approval.

That's according to minutes of a meeting between officials from the Department of Health, Labrador-Grenfell Health, Eastern Health, and the Department of Transportation and Works, recently obtained by The Northern Pen through a Freedom of Information request.

The meeting addressed various issues surrounding the air ambulance program in Newfoundland and Labrador, including moving the aircraft from St. Anthony to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

"In light of recent concerns in Labrador City regarding delayed air ambulance response, EH (Eastern Health) visited to meet with hospital officials," the minutes read.

"While there was a discussion regarding relocating the air ambulance from St. Anthony to HV-GB to improve response times to Labrador and increase accessibility of the MFS for coastal flights, it was decided that no consideration would be given to relocate this air ambulance at this time."

The minutes go on to say the health minister "supports the placement of a second team of MFS in St. Anthony (and) is awaiting approval for funding to proceed."

Just six months later, the government had flip-flopped on those plans and instead announced its intention to move the air ambulance service to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Labrador-Grenfell Health CEO Boyd Rowe, who was present at the meeting, did not respond to interview requests before deadline.

The health minister also declined to speak with Transcontinental Media to dispute the town's claims that the move was political revenge after the Conservatives' loss in the October 2009 byelection.

"The only thing that happened after that meeting was the election, and from what those minutes tell me, it was a political move and that's it," St. Anthony Mayor Ern Simms said. "It's what we've been saying all along.

"Putting another medical flight team here would've gone some way to solve their problems, but instead they just moved it and created more problems than they can handle. There are real wait times happening up there in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. ... I don't know what they're doing."

Meanwhile, Jim Bennett, St. Anthony's lawyer for the upcoming court case against the provincial government, said he hopes Kennedy, Rowe and air ambulance report author Wes Drodge will be required to testify under oath.

"We need to get those key players. I think if we hear evidence from all three of them, we'll likely be able to put together a good argument for the case," he told The Northern Pen last week.

"Clearly, the terms of reference for the Drodge report were far too narrow. The methodology of only talking to councils and bereaved families - neither of which have any medical qualifications at all - to make a recommendation like this just boggles the mind. It's formed an emotional response to what is ultimately a political question."

On July 28, the court will hear St. Anthony's request for testimony from Drodge, Rowe and Kennedy. No matter what the outcome is, Bennett said, the town plans to continue its bid to prove the government has breached its contract with the Northern Peninsula.

"We're moving this case along, and we're not going away."

Organizations: MFS, Department of Health, Department of Transportation and Works Transcontinental Media Conservatives

Geographic location: St. Anthony, Newfoundland and Labrador, Happy Valley Goose Bay

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