PLACENTIA, NL — There's plenty of united frustration in Placentia when it comes to the state of the local healthcare facility.
Close to 200 people attended a public meeting Tuesday night at the Royal Canadian Legion, with many bemoaning the lack of access to dialysis, forcing people to drive upwards of three times a week to St. John's for that service.
A man in his early 80s told those in attendance he's been driving his wife to St. John's three times a week for 10 years and it his age, it's not getting any easier. The drive itself can take as long as three-and-a-half hours in bad weather.
"The expenses incurred are unbelievable," he added, noting they moved to town for a four-month period earlier this year and spent $900 per month on rent.
Des Hickey, who started dialysis treatment earlier this year, handles the commute for the service and often drives himself. Hickey said the experience leaves him noticeably fatigued.
"When you put somebody after three-and-a-half or four hours on dialysis behind the wheel, you're putting an impaired driver on the road who is fatigued. And that's what the government is doing to us people. If I don't have somebody to drive with me and I take that truck of mine, I'm endangering my life and everybody else's."
Sheldon Slaney, the parent of a young boy with leukemia, addressed the problems created by not offering X-ray and laboratory services after hours or on weekends.
Earlier this year in the middle of a snowstorm, his son Kaleb experienced shortness of breath. Slaney took his son to the Placentia Health Centre and eventually got on the phone with a physician at the Janeway Children's Hospital, who said Kaleb would need to undergo an X-ray. Slaney thought that wouldn't be an issue, as the X-ray equipment was only a short distance from him.
However, once he got off the phone, hospital staff told Slaney the service was unavailable on weekends. Rather than send his son off in an ambulance, Slaney drove Kaleb himself to St. John's. The drive took almost two hours.
"I did something I normally don't do," he said Tuesday. "The first thing I did was pray. Now nothing against anybody who is religious — I'm not overly religious. I've got a lot of my own beliefs. I believe in positive thinking and whatnot. But I prayed that day. And I prayed first of all for Kaleb, that he was going to be OK. But then I actually prayed that this type of situation stops in outport Newfoundland.
"That should never have happened to my family that day, and I'm only one example. I'm not looking for a pity card or nothing like that … For me to have to put my child in that car and drive in the conditions that I drove in — pardon my French, but that's a goddamn travesty. That's absolutely ridiculous. It's time that we stand up and start fighting back and be heard."
Local physician Robert Power, who has a family practice in Placentia and also has hospital privileges, said he saw value in having meetings like the one held Tuesday and talking about healthcare. He was also clear to point out he was speaking at the meeting of his own accord and not on behalf of anyone else.
The doctor said he could envision further cuts to services at the Placentia Health Centre.
"If nobody says anything, things will change — we can be assured of that," Power said. "The only chance we have is to get together and advocate for each other, and I think the first step is what we see here tonight."
While he pointed out the hospital has a lot of services people in a community like Placentia should hope to have, Power also alluded to the fact changes made in recent years impact how he would manage a patient's treatment. For example, he said if there was an industrial accident after hours where a worker came to the hospital in a neck brace, a physician could not remove the brace without an X-ray.
"So if it's 6:30 in the evening and we don't have X-ray until 8:30 the next morning, then either that patient leaves Placentia Health Centre by an ambulance to Carbonear or St. John's," Power said, estimating the ambulance ride would cost anywhere from $800 to $1,000. Then, resources elsewhere would be used to manage that patient's situation.
"Or, we go 10 feet across the hall where the X-ray machine is there," Power went on to say. "The fixed assets are in the building in the Placentia Health Centre. And we do the X-ray, we come back and we carry on with the management of that patient. To me, it does not make any sense to have a fixed asset in the building and not have individuals on site — and we do have individuals in this area who are trained to operate an X-ray, and they're fantastic. I do not see the logic in that."
Power also addressed the dialysis issue, indicating he has told Health Minister John Haggie he would be willing to administer that service locally and undergo training as required.
Desmond Linehan, a former Eastern Health board member, said it's a disadvantage to the area not to have a voice on the side. He said none of the current board members are from the Placentia area. He was also critical of the Trinity-Conception-Health Foundation, suggesting it's too pre-occupied with serving the needs of Carbonear General Hospital.
"I wonder if we boycotted the Carbonear run, if we say a physician is going to send us on an ambulance, to say, 'Well no, I'm not going to Carbonear. I'm going St. John's.' Why not go to Clarenville?"
Minister Haggie and Placentia-St. Mary's MHA Sherry Gambin-Walsh were invited to Tuesday's meeting, but could not attend due to the House of Assembly being in session. Gambin-Walsh's constituency assistant Frankie Nash was present and suggested anyone wishing to release their health information to the MHA should get in touch with her office to sign a waiver.
Jamie Neville, who served as the MC for Tuesday's meeting, said a local committee might form to advocate for improvements to the Placentia Health Centre.