Western Health plans to use a nurse practitioner and a travelling doctor to serve residents of the small town of Cow Head, population approximately 425, on the Great Northern Peninisula.
Cow Head residents, however, feel that’s not good enough.
Glenda Reid-Bavis and Paul O’Leary are two members of a group who have organized to lobby for a full-time doctor, to fill the vacancy created when their previous long-time locum doctor, Dr. Harold Watts died in November.
The health authority proposed to have a doctor from Bonne Bay Health Centre in Norris Point visit the medical clinics in Cow Head, Parson’s Pond or Daniel’s Harbour on a rotating basis. It’s 55 kilometres from Norris Point to Cow Head, and 95 kms from Norris Point to Daniel’s Harbour.
The physician will spend one day a week on the road.
Reid-Bavis and O’Leary says this this means they would have a doctor in each of these communities just one day every three weeks.
They contrasted this with the service previously provided by Dr. Watts who worked at the Cow Head clinic 16 hours every week since 2007.
That’s a total of 48 hours over the course of three weeks.
Now, the number of hours will be reduced to just eight hours in three weeks.
O’Leary says that calculates to an 83 per cent reduction in medical services for these towns.
“We do not believe we should be waiting three weeks,” said O’Leary. “We are concerned that we don’t have adequate medical services for a doctor for the population here.”
Cow Head residents can get appointments at the Norris Point clinic 55 km away, but Reid-Bavis stresses there are a high number of seniors in the community, many without family, who may have trouble finding transportation out of town.
“We have a lot of seniors in this community, many without family, and they rely on the doctor,” she said.
The town’s 2016 census shows that 28 per cent of the community’s population was 65 and over.
Western Health also says it is advertising for a full-time nurse practitioner (NP) to be stationed at the Cow Head clinic.
The NP would also visit Parson’s Pond and Daniel’s Harbour.
In the meantime, a NP stationed in Norris Point will provide outreach twice a week.
Per the Canadian Nurses Association, nurse practitioners are registered nurses with additional education and nursing experience. They can autonomously diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, prescribe medications and perform medical procedures.
Reid-Bavis, however, contends a nurse practitioner is not the same as a doctor.
“We were told a nurse practitioner is the same as a doctor but, in reality, a nurse practitioner is not the same as a doctor,” she said. “You need a family doctor and, in this case, if people have health issues they need that expertise.”
She said she feels the relationship a doctor establishes with a patient is important and is concerned this will be lost if a doctor visits Cow Head just one day every three weeks.
The health authority has also committed to introducing telehealth technology to support access to primary care in the three communities.
Western Health felt that with these changes, “access to primary care clinics will be the same or increased with this proposed model once implemented.”
But Reid-Bavis and O’Leary say they don’t believe this will satisfy the community’s health needs.
They want Western Health to advertise for a full-time doctor for their clinic.