Newfoundlanders deserve better health care

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I am an American physician who has practiced internal medicine/geriatrics for over 30 years who chose to spend my summers in Newfoundland, not just because of its natural beauty, but also because of the warmth of its people.

I consider Newfoundland my second home. I read about your health care concerns in The Telegram and hear about medical issues from my neighbours. For such a great country, I’ve realized that I would never want to get ill here.

It’s not that we Americans have such a wonderful system. We don’t.

Millions of people have no access to any health care at all in the U.S.

But really, Newfoundland, some of your “standards” are laughable.

 In The Telegram’s lead story Aug. 1, you state that the national benchmark for emergency surgeries for hip fractures is 48 hours, and that you reach that 83 per cent of the time.

 I’m sorry but the benchmark itself and your success rate both stink. I practice in a retirement area of 40,000 summer population and 150,000 winter population, (note still smaller than St. John’s even in winter) and no patient who comes to an emergency room ever waits more than 24 hours for hip surgery, with many being done the same day if they arrive early enough in the day.

Newfoundland, you leave one sixth of your (usually elderly) patients in great pain and at high risk for life threatening blood clots. I don’t consider that acceptable.

Elective surgeries don’t fare much better.

A benchmark of six months for hip- or knee-replacement surgery is embarrassing. By the time a person is ready for this procedure, they have tried anti-inflammatories, cortisone injections and even artificial cartilage injections into the joint without success. Their quality of life is usually horrible by this point, living on pain pills and with severe debilitation. To make someone wait up to six months for relief is a crime, especially since again you are usually dealing with the elderly, whose time is already at a premium.

I have also heard horror stories from my neighbours, some of whom are practicing nurses in

St. John’s.

Some are laughable, some just sad.

I hear about the six-month wait for a colonoscopy for a person suspected of colon cancer recurrence. This usually takes 2-3 days to get done in my practice.

I hear about the elderly lady presently in the hospital for nine days following a small heart attack, still waiting for a heart catheterization.

Now she has a fever, probably a hospital-acquired infection from the long stay.

And with prolonged bed rest, she’ll probably require rehab when she finally gets out, as elderly people lose three per cent of their leg strength for each day they lay in bed.

My patients usually get their caths the next day, and then are home the following day.

I hear about months of being in pain to get an elective gall bladder removal.

I hear about non-air conditioned hospitals having to give extra water and fans to patients to keep them cool and hydrated.

I hear about people leaving the province to get a PET (cancer) scan and months waiting for an MRI.

Our little town has two PET scanners, four MRI scanners, and four CT scanners. I can usually get an elective scan done in 48 hours.

And I read about it taking up to six years to build a new hospital, when it should take half that long.

Yes, the median age in my hometown is 49 years, old while Newfoundland’s is 45.

However, with the median age in Canada being 40, Newfoundland has the oldest population of all the Canadian provinces, therefore it will need to spend more per person than the Canadian average.

Newfoundland, you are no longer a poor province.

I read about billions being poured into Muskrat Falls, whatever that is.

You obviously have money to spend. I think that your priorities need to be adjusted. A lot.

As for me, if I ever get sick while summering here, I’m asking my family to have me airlifted back to the States to get costly, but at least timely medical treatment in an air-conditioned hospital.

Paul March, MD is a former chief-of-staff at Florida Hospital, runs a health and

maternity clinic in Mali, Africa, and spends his summers in Tors Cove.

Organizations: Florida Hospital

Geographic location: Newfoundland, U.S., Canada Muskrat Falls Mali Africa Tors Cove

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    August 12, 2014 - 13:06

    If we had the money to spend it would not be so bad. Instead we are BILLIONS in debt, we are in deficit to the tune of hundreds of MILLIONS, and we have to borrow BILLIONS to build a concrete dam that WE do not need and that will make Nova Scotia the principal beneficiary --- and worse, that will hog tie our children and grand children with very, very, very high cost, unneeded power for decades. ---- What a travesty ---- all while our medical system flounders.

    • Morry
      August 12, 2014 - 17:01

      A dog and his bone.

  • Laughable
    August 12, 2014 - 12:31

    We could easily have the same treatment rates as the US if we also restricted the number of people that could access it.

  • Too Funny
    August 12, 2014 - 12:24

    Well there's no health care system that makes a doctor happy. Yes, our system leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, few of us would be able to afford your system.