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.