A couple of years ago, Emir Andrews was worried that a medical specialist she credits for saving her life might leave Newfoundland over salary, workload and recruitment issues.
That crisis was averted in 2008 when the province offered salaried oncologists packages similar to what it had earlier offered pathologists to keep them from resigning over the same type of workplace issues.
Andrews said she expected all medical specialists would be treated the same after that, but once again she’s worried about losing another specialist — this time a neurologist who’s been playing an important role in her health care.
Andrews had surgery for ovarian cancer about eight years ago. She said if it had not been for gynecologic oncologist Dr. Cathy Popadiuk detecting the cancer early and removing it, “I might very well not be talking to you now.”
Popadiuk was one of a group of oncologists who threatened to resign in 2008, but stayed in the province after the dispute was resolved.
“I sort of lived through that one and now, I’m facing it again,” Andrews said.
She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1981 and has been treated by different neurologists over the years. Her neurologist now is Dr. Mark Steffanili, director of the multiple sclerosis program at Eastern Health. He’s also one of 14 medical specialists in the province who have tendered their resignations, effective Feb. 4, 2011, in a dispute with the province over a two-tiered pay scale that was created in 2008 when pathologists and oncologists were given higher salaries.
The doctors threatening to resign have cited problems with recruitment in their specialties because of the pay discrepancies and say the resulting vacancies have led to higher workloads which is another deterrent in getting medical specialists to consider jobs in the province.
Steffanili is an expert in multiple sclerosis, Andrews said, “and if this province loses him, it’s going to be a very sorry situation, not just for me in particular, but for our province, in general.”
Andrews said she’s sure there are other patients like herself with similar stories, who worry about the specialists they depend on leaving Newfoundland.
“It just seems to be incredible,” she said, that the provincial government has taken a stand not to give all medical specialists comparable compensation packages, when the province seems to be doing better than it has for quite a while.
Andrews said she might be naive, but when the pathologists and oncologists disputes were settled with better packages, she assumed the province would do the same for the other specialists.
“I do not quite understand why they are not doing that,” she said. “Why are they splitting hairs between one specialty and another? They say they can’t afford to pay them what they’re asking. From where I sit, they can’t afford not to. The problems they’re going to have here if they can’t replace these people are going to be astronomical.”
Andrews said the waiting list for some of these specialists is already long and “it’s nothing to what they’re going to be if they can’t be replaced, which to me is not only devastating but, potentially, very worrying.”
A retired university professor, Andrews said, she can’t imagine the faculty in one university department being paid a different amount than the faculty in another department. “How could you justify that? It just does not make any sense to me,” she said.
It’s hard enough to recruit doctors in Newfoundland, Andrews added. When the province recruits good doctors here, she said, it shouldn’t make it so difficult for them that they’re forced into the position that these people have found themselves in.
She said she doesn’t believe her neurologist would be contemplating resigning unless he really felt, there was “absolutely no alternative.”