Obstetrics plan has two Central Health communities trading arguments

The ever-expanding rush to pilfer medical professionals and resources to shore up local services now has two central-Newfoundland communities pitted against each other.

The Town of Gander is expressing “disappointment and concern” following a Jan. 27 statement from the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor that supports a centralization of obstetrics services at that community’s Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre (CNRHC).

“Obstetric service delivery from one site is unacceptable and unsafe,” Gander Mayor Percey Falwell is quoted as saying. “The Town of Gander has always advocated for obstetric services to remain in both Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor.

“Those responsible for reimagining our health care system must devote their energies to finding solutions to HR challenges, not concede to these challenges by eliminating core services to growing populations.’

In a January 27 statement, Grand Falls-Windsor indicated its support for a Newfoundland Health Accord recommendation to continue obstetric services within one unit, writing “following the Health Accord’s recommendation for the CNRHC to be the sole obstetrics site will ensure a better and safer environment for patients and healthcare providers.”

But The Town of Gander disagrees, countering it “worries for the safety of women and babies who would be required to travel far and unsafe distances to access a birthing place.”

“The Town of Gander firmly believes lives will be lost if this recommendation is accepted,” the release concludes.

Gander notes population growth — more than 23 percent between 2001 and 2021 — its central location between two major health centres and the improved availability of air ambulance services through Gander International Airport are strong arguments to retain the services at JPMRHC.

It also notes that almost 70 percent of the regional population lives within 100 km of the community’s hospital.

In its January 27 statement, Grand Falls-Windsor argued, both historically and currently, that “birth numbers have been split 60 percent on the west side of the region and 40 percent on the east side of the region.”

It also noted the majority of current obstetric specialists call Grand Falls-Windsor home
But Gander disagrees, countering GFW is using “partial and misleading data” since birthing procedures were diverted in recent years to support the Grand Falls-Windsor location.

Gander also maintains service delivery decisions should not be based solely on current staff and where they reside, particularly when those staff may have a pecuniary interest in the issue.
“The decision should be made based on factors such as population trends, geographic considerations and demographic trends,” the release reads.

“Obstetric services have been sustained in Gander for [more than] 80 years,” Mayor Farwell is quoted as saying.

“There is no record of diversion or interruption of that service until 2008, three years after the central east and west health boards were merged and headquartered in Grand Falls -Windsor.”

A migration of obstetrics services is not the only Central health Region concern noted by the Town of Gander.

“Evidence regarding Central Health’s recruitment practices and organizational behaviour, including bullying and harassment of Gander-based medical professionals, may provide insight into reasons for challenges in Gander, specifically since that amalgamation,” Mayor Falwell is quoted as saying.

“Both sites have experienced challenges; however travel nurses have been hired to support only the Grand Falls-Windsor site and medical staff based in Gander have been mandated to travel to Grand Falls-Windsor to fill vacancies.”

The Newfoundland Health Accord would have regional hospitals located in St. John’s (with tertiary and secondary services across two sites), Gander/Grand Falls-Windsor (one centre across two sites), and Corner Brook.

However, as noted in Section 18 of the Accord’s Implementation Recommendations from the Strategy Committees and Working Groups, the plan would be to continue obstetrics in just one unit in Central Health noting rotation of services across two sites is unsustainable.

illustration photo by Jonathan Borba