‘The alarm should come on’

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Barb Sweet
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Father of boy who spent months in Janeway urges end to doctor dispute

Gary and Trudy Lushman are shown with their son Warren, 15. While the family is suing Eastern Halth over cyclosporine errors in the biocheminstry lab which placed Warren in critical condition, they are also coming out in support of doctors at the Janeway for the level of care their son received after the error.

The father of a teen who spent 99 days in the Janeway intensive care unit (ICU) is pleading for the province to resolve a dispute that prompted a crucial pediatrician — among other doctors — to resign.

“The alarm should come on … I’m concerned this will close the hospital,” said Gary Lushman, who with his wife, Trudy, spent 294 days by their son Warren’s hospital bedside in the past year — 99 of those in the pediatric ICU. 

The family finally returned to Corner Brook this fall, where Warren is attending limited hours of school as he continues his recovery.

Lushman is siding with the doctors in the dispute.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Health Minister Jerome Kennedy announced the province will meet with the Newfoundland and Lab-rador Medical Association (NLMA) sometime this week.

Pediatric intensive care specialist Dr. Debbie Reid, one of two pediatric intensive care specialists at the Janeway, is among 14 medical specialists in the province who announced their intentions last month to resign over a dispute with the province regarding salaries and workloads.

Two emergency room doctors at the Janeway have said Reid’s resignation — which will take effect in February — endangers the pediatric ICU, and the children’s hospital will be crippled without the unit.

The Lushman family is suing Eastern Health over errors in the St. John’s biochemistry lab that they claim left their son with devastating neurological and multi-organ injuries after he received a toxic dose of the drug cyclosporine.

But the Lushmans have told The Telegram their son received world-class care from the Janeway doctors who treated the critically ill boy, first for his autoimmune disorder and then for complications from too much cyclosporine.

Eastern Health revealed the cyclosporine errors publicly in late February, ordering 212 patients retested by a Halifax lab.

The authority acknowledged that an international scientific paper was overlooked when it installed a new model of the machine that monitors levels of cyclosporine, which is given to organ transplant patients and those with immune disorders.

The health authority has said it intends to file a defence to the Lushmans’ statement of claim.

Warren Lushman, now 15, was taken by air ambulance to St. John’s in December 2009.

Gary Lushman said the family waited for the weather to clear in Corner Brook and he fears many more parents and children will be stressed while waiting on tarmacs to get to hospitals in Halifax or elsewhere in Canada if the Janeway is forced to close its ICU.

“We are going to find ourselves with nowhere to go. Children will die,” Lushman said this week.

The family was relieved to make it to St. John’s and to be able to access care in their home province. Lushman pointed out there are sick children in the Janeway ICU who simply can’t be moved.

“Warren was so critical he couldn’t go for a CAT scan, he couldn’t go for an MRI. How would you get a child like that to Halifax?” Lushman asked.

He said he saw first-hand how hard Reid and other doctors worked.

Lushman said it was not uncommon for the physicians to spend days at a time in the short-staffed unit without going home.

“It’s not a dollar value. The issues have been sitting at the Janeway for years and years and years,” he said.

“It’s the most critical unit there is. Two intensive care doctors can’t handle that. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the enormous amount of workload there.”

Lushman said he doesn’t believe the doctors are motivated by money, but the system needs better salaries in order to recruit and maintain a safe level of health care.

He acknowledged that Eastern Health uses locums to provide relief, but said using a variety of doctors who come and go for temporary stints to fill vacancies doesn’t provide stability.

“The bottom line is they are not getting a decent break and that’s where she’s collapsing,” he said of the ICU. “From my perspective, I’ve lived there and I’ve seen it.”

Lushman said the calibre of the Janeway doctors and their years of experience saved his son’s life, and those physicians need to be appreciated and listened to about what’s needed to recruit others.

Local specialists who have threatened to resign  are upset over a two-tiered pay scale created by salary increases given to pathologists and oncologists in 2008, outside the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association's collective bargaining process.

They also argue the salary gap is making it difficult to recruit specialists and has contributed to vacancies and high workloads.

According to the NLMA, direct job offers are already being made to some resigning doctors, and some are getting multiple offers.

Seven of the 14 are Janeway doctors and another physician from the children’s hospital is leaving for family reasons.

bsweet@thetelegram.com

Twitter: bsweettweets

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Halifax, Newfoundland Canada

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Recent comments

  • tom claw
    December 02, 2010 - 21:04

    To Jerome Kennedy, I must say at times I did like you however, now I am starting to respect you keep up the good work. If the doctors want a raise make them work for it. Newfoundland is one of the smallest places in the world but one of the nicest places to work . The doctors there are paid enough if they want to live where they are want a raise tell them to move to a place where they will have to know their stuff. Horray to Jerome no raise

  • KAty
    December 02, 2010 - 17:58

    There's no line-up of doctors waiting for jobs here. That's why so many positions are already short-staffed - some positions have been open for 5+ years. Why? Because the working conditions (hours, hours on call, staffing of technicians and nurses, equipment...and yes, pay) are better elsewhere in the country. Heck, our schools pump out nurses and LPNs, but we had to go to India to bring in new nursing hires even though there are hundreds (yes: HUNDREDS) of medical positions open in the province. Our own people are snapped up by those willing to pay competitve wages.

  • Jerry
    December 02, 2010 - 10:54

    Chris I hope in the near future you find yourself in need of serious medical attention, maybe then you may see the need for competent, well paid doctors. More pay may not improve the system totally, but I'd rather have a content doctor working on me rather than a disgruntled one.

  • Chris
    December 02, 2010 - 08:28

    "Lushman said he doesn’t believe the doctors are motivated by money, but the system needs better salaries in order to recruit and maintain a safe level of health care. " Naive. Doctors are asking for more money, not better health care for patients. Doctors are not asking for less hours ... even though they complain about them. Fact is that MDs set their own hours....they are certainly not going to get fired for working a 50 hour work week. But that overtime pay....at a few hundred dollars per hour why not? Ever wonder why the medical community doesn't push for an expanded medical school? That would (at least partially) settle complaints about recruitment. A bigger supply of MD's would reduce their negotiating power....so you will never see that move from the NLMA even though there are plenty of positions open! What's next for the NLMA? Canadian Parity? US Parity? I'm guessing they are hoping the other Atlantic provinces raise salaries by 25% so they can get a matching raise in a few years. Shame on the NLMA & its members for using sick children to line their pockets.

    • John
      December 02, 2010 - 09:29

      Chris - nice dream world you live in. Reason doctors salaries are high is because there are so few of them and they are highly educated and specialized. Some specialists do 5-7 years of training after medical school! Cannot just say - get more doctors. Govt created this problem when they knee jerked a two tiered salary scale into the system. Bottom line - to attract the top people - you have to pay a salary that is competitive. Days of taking less to live in good old nfld are over. We live in a global community - good or bad. The environment is toxic in health care - first step is for pay equality and then work on getting back trust

    • concerned
      December 02, 2010 - 16:11

      chris: doctors don't make their own hours, patients get sick 24 hours a day. it's not about getting fired for leaving work, it's about caring for patients something you obviously know nothing about (at least I hope you don't because that would scare me). overtime pay? doctors get paid to care for patients, not an hourly wage and no scheduled breaks. Also, in case you haven't noticed the medical school is and has been expanding over the past few years with more spots which will translate into more doctors; many of whom will leave because in this province they will be overworked for less pay. I say shame on you for being so naive. my advice to you is to actually read some of these articles and spend less time writing posts because you obviously have no idea what you are talking about.