It’s far from a done deal, but Dr. Justin French is buoyed knowing the provincial government is willing to further discuss his plans for a new eye care clinic in Corner Brook.
In fact, Premier Dwight Ball and several of his cabinet ministers came out of the Sir Richard Squires Building to join a midday rally in support of French organized in the city Friday.
French wants to finance and construct a purpose-built eye care clinic in Corner Brook that he says will have ophthalmology services that remain publicly funded through MCP and universally accessible.
The Springdale native who has been practicing in Corner Brook for seven years is frustrated by having to work within the confines of the current health care system. In particular, French believes his proposal would process the growing wait list for cataract surgery more efficiently without sacrificing the tie required for other ophthalmological services.
After news recently broke that the provincial government had rejected his clinic proposal and that he was considering leaving Corner Brook, there has been a public outcry for government to find a way to ensure the doctor stays in western Newfoundland.
Ball announced Thursday that he and Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie were willing to meet with French about the idea. That meeting, which will also include other provincial cabinet ministers, has been scheduled for Wednesday in St. John’s.
French hopes any misconceptions or misunderstandings the two sides have will finally be cleared up by a face-to-face meeting.
“I certainly think it would be premature to call it a victory, but I really appreciate government listening to the public and listening to my proposal and being willing to sit down and talk again,” French said after Friday’s rally. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
French said he has no doubt it was the concerns raised by people on social media and in person that helped facilitate this meeting.
“It was the public taking the initiative to go out and raise awareness about what they felt was important as the people and voters of Newfoundland that got the government’s attention,” he said. “It’s been fantastic.”
Around 50 people attended Friday’s noon hour rally, organized in part by Diane Starling. While she is the chairperson of the Corner Brook Downtown Business Association, Starling said she helped arrange the rally as a concerned citizen and not on behalf of the organization.
“I think it’s important we all stand together,” she said. “You hear often that we don’t understand what’s gong on behind the scenes. I get that we don’t all know, but we’re the public and the only way we can communicate is to rally or write letters, so I thought this was a nice friendly way to communicate with (government).”
While she said she doesn’t know what is the best scenario for eye care, Starling said the important thing is the two sides involved will get together and figure it out.
Ball said ensuring ophthalmological services continue in western Newfoundland is the most important priority for government and, if French’s plan to lower wait times can be accommodated, then it could be considered.
“We are not resistant to change,” said Ball. “I guarantee you, we’re looking for ways to improve outcomes.”
Under French’s plan, ophthalmologic services in the western region would only be available at his clinic. While he said he will buy all the equipment need to outfit his clinic, he said Friday that he would consider purchasing any of the current equipment at Western Memorial Regional Hospital that wasn’t outdated and would fit in with his plans.