Sullivan doesn’t rule out radiation unit for new hospital, but says it’s not feasible now

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Health and Community Services Minister Susan Sullivan talks about plans for Corner Brook's new hospital.

By Diane Crocker and Gary Kean

Star Staff Writers

CORNER BROOK Susan Sullivan is not saying no to a radiation unit at the new hospital planned for Corner Brook, she’s just saying not right now.

“What we’ve said around radiation from the get-go is should we look at our resources over the next few years and the demand is there, you know we’re able to provide service, meaning we can recruit and retain the many specialists who are needed, then we would then look at that,” said Sullivan, the minister of Health and Community Services, during an interview with The Western Star following the official opening of the restorative care unit at the Long Term Care Home in Corner Brook on Wednesday afternoon.

Sullivan said she recognizes the biggest issue for cancer patients here on the west coast is having to travel to St. John’s for radiation treatment.

“And I absolutely understand it. I understand how difficult the travel is and I understand the pressures and the challenges that creates for people. But in order to provide a service we have to make sure that it’s the safest and it provides the best quality care that we can give them.”

At this time the Health minister said the numbers just don’t support putting a radiation unit in the new hospital.

Information obtained from Eastern Health shows that in 2012 172 newly diagnosed people from the region serviced by Western Health underwent radiation at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. Another 270 were from Central Health, 59 from Labrador-Grenfell Health and 714 from Eastern Health.

Of the total number of patients to receive treatment in 2012, taking in some previously diagnosed patients who had at least one treatment in that year, 204 were from Western, 302 from Central, 67 from Labrador-Grenfell and 917 from Eastern.

Combining the numbers from Western, Central and Labrador, proponents of locating a unit here argue it could service those people.

However, Sullivan disagrees.

“We don’t have any numbers to show us that people from central Newfoundland would come here to the west coast.”

She said her department has looked at what happens in the current system in terms of people coming here for other services and the numbers are low. “So the numbers are just not showing us that people would make those kinds of decisions.”

In terms of the machinery, Sullivan said 400 patients are needed to make one machine feasible and viable. And, she said, two machines are needed to allow for downtime, planned or unscheduled, because once treatment starts it can’t be interrupted. Those two machines would have a capacity of 800, but Sullivan said the number here is only around 140.

That, she said, leads to another issue, and that’s finding someone to run the machines.

Sullivan said people won’t want to come and do the work part-time. “When they’re looking to practice, they want to practice in a manner that allows them to keep their skills honed as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, Sullivan said the answer to if there will be a PET  (positron emission tomography) scanner in the new hospital is “no.”

“The bottom line after crunching all of the numbers is that we know we would do about two to three scans a week and that in and of itself is not sustainable. We want to see maximum utilization.”

Again, she said the province has to look at the need and the demand and at the ability to be able to recruit and retain the medical professionals that would be needed.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t the first time Sullivan answered questions about a radiation unit and PET scanner during her visit to the city.

On Tuesday night she met with 60 to 70 representatives of area municipal councils and local services districts and on Wednesday morning did the same with six members of the Western Region Hospital Action Committee.

Israel Hann, the committee’s chairperson, said he and his fellow committee members were not at all happy with the answers the minister gave them during the more than two-hour meeting.

“It didn’t go the way we would have liked at all,” said Hann. “It was all ‘no’s’.

“She said no to a radiation unit and no to a PET scanner. She said it wasn’t about the money. It was about the population and finding the staff for these things.”

Hann said the committee could not accept the government’s stance on the hospital plans because all of those factors could change by the time the hospital opens and these services could be necessary.

He said the committee will continue to fight for a better hospital than what government is currently planning for. He said that includes talking to politicians and people considering to be politicians, in light of the upcoming Tory leadership race and subsequent general election that has to happen some time in the next year.

“I’ll talk to the devil himself if it means getting a better hospital,” vowed Hann.

Organizations: Community Services, Health Sciences Centre

Geographic location: Western Star, Corner Brook, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Linda
    February 06, 2014 - 04:19

    No matter what Eddy Joyce is saying, corner brook is dying, Please at lease lets us have a pet scanner in the new hospital.

  • Gladys Batten
    February 01, 2014 - 07:16

    If a radiation unit isnt feasible at this time ,then change the travel assistance program to zero miles to qualify instead of the the 5000 it wasa few years ago when my daughter had to travel . It has since been changed to 2500 and should be eliminated permanently. We are not travelling to Vancouver for radiation in order to qualify for the 5000 or 2500 , its stressfull enough for those taking the treatment can the Government not have some compassion for those people fighting for their lives.

  • Gladys Batten
    February 01, 2014 - 07:16

    If a radiation unit isnt feasible at this time ,then change the travel assistance program to zero miles to qualify instead of the the 5000 it wasa few years ago when my daughter had to travel . It has since been changed to 2500 and should be eliminated permanently. We are not travelling to Vancouver for radiation in order to qualify for the 5000 or 2500 , its stressfull enough for those taking the treatment can the Government not have some compassion for those people fighting for their lives.

  • Dianne Barker
    January 31, 2014 - 12:21

    Given the option, I would travel to Corner Brook for any and all services not available in Grand Falls. The cut in travel time alone is reason enough to choose Corner Brook over St. John's. The time for the Government to make better health services available off of the Avalon is long over-due.

  • Tony Young
    January 31, 2014 - 01:20

    Sullivan needs to find herself another job, if radiation was available in western NL it could easily have traffic from Central NL and from Labrador go to the centre in Corner Brook for treatment. It would open up more spaces for ALL Newfoundlanders. People need to push for this NOW not later. Cancer in the BSG region alone is at an all time high due to the mess left by the American Air force base and that mess ignored by past and present governments. It is time those voters in rural NL stand up and say their vote makes up 50% of the population in the province and government needs to stop ignoring that fact.

  • linda
    January 30, 2014 - 19:31

    why is numbers so important to Sullivan does it really matter .cancer is out of control and the number of paitents with it is rising everyday we on the west coast is just a number to her. they are supposed to be building a new hospital .put the things needed from the get go and we wont be looking for it later .. and mrs Sullivan if we aren't getting any benefits from the new hospital our government should be fully responsible for all fees. paid in full . bus,plane, hotel, meals . whatever . if we have to travel out of our city to another for medical reasons .. because they refuse to install a pet or cat scan whatever we are people human beings the same as you and should be treated same ...

  • Robert
    January 30, 2014 - 15:51

    Well the plot thickens... I can only hope that I am alive when ever we get anything that even resembles a building that we can call a hospital... My wife has cancer and we are back and forth to St John's regularly, and the bills keep adding up. It wouldn't be so bad if we had to go there, and right now we do, if they reimbursed us for our costs rather than nickel and dime us to death with the application that now exists. First portion of kilometers are our responsibility, first part of hotel, also our responsibility, and of course meals, the same... By the time you finish the application you are sick of it and most don't bother sending it in...Go Figure..... Looks like that's what the Government wants... Being sick, Madam Minister is not what we plan.... But we can plan the facilities that we have to help the sick. Do it right the first time and not down the road when it will become a matter of extra costs in future dollars that can be done now at todays dollar rate... As far as numbers are concerned and the lack of need for things like a PET Scanner.....It's easy to come up with figures...When my wife was diagnosed we were not even told of a PET scan...we found out about it ourselves... We asked other patients at her treatment center and to our surprise no one had heard of it either... When she went elsewhere, for a second opinion, the first question we were asked was where were the results of her PET scan... Of course there wasn't any and he told us that the first thing done, where we were, was a PET scan, to all Cancer patients...I guess this is another Avalon thing... If you don't live on the Avalon you don't need one... No wonder the numbers don't reflect the true need Island wide... My God this is making me sick.. That's my rant...

  • darrin
    January 30, 2014 - 10:10

    I find this absolutely incredulous. Politicians will spin numbers until they eventually spin them around on themselves. Remember what Mark Twain said "There are three types of Lies - Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics". I think Sullivan has pretty well covered each. Where does the insistance that residents of Labrador and Central NL would rather go to St. John's than Corner Brook. What a crock. If i was from Central NL or Labrador why would i not want to go to hospital that is closer and by inference cheaper to get to. It is simple folks -Eastern NL has all the resources and that is the way it is going to stay. These gutless idiots are terrified to take money away from the Mecca city and provide services to the people of this province who have the gall to live west of the Avalon peninsula. Imagine how Corner Brook would have been shafted if Danny Boy and Tommy Boy were not in Cabinet

  • wp
    January 30, 2014 - 09:42

    I agree with the other comments. This lady has blindfolds on with her head pointing east.

  • rusty
    January 30, 2014 - 08:59

    Vote Liberal, i know i will in the next election

  • gord
    January 29, 2014 - 22:49

    Politicians always spin numbers to support their line of thinking. I could be comfortable with a second opinion from an unrelated source. I've been around long enough to know, "trust no one"! Sullivan is worried that if there was a unit in C Brk more would go that way and avoid the east misery.

  • Really Now
    January 29, 2014 - 22:28

    Ms. Sullivan, you are one piece of work. You and your government won't consider putting things here on the West Coast because you want it all for the Eastern part of the island. Danny Williams promised the best hospital, full diagnostic services, more beds, radiation unit and more staff. What has your government done, cut, cut, cut, cut. It's time we here on the West Coast take to the streets with our signs & protest. The line has been drawn by your lies ... time to cross it and show you what the people can do to reverse this mentality.

    • rusty
      January 30, 2014 - 08:56

      Vote Liberal the next election, i know i will.

    • rusty
      January 30, 2014 - 08:57

      Vote Liberal the next election, i know i will.