It was a long day for Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald and others.
Fitzgerald made a 250 km round trip from her town to St. Anthony on March 28 for a day-long meeting about health care issues on the Great Northern Peninsula (GNP).
Participants also made the journey from the South Coast of Labrador for the health care forum hosted by Labrador Grenfell Health (LGH).
Fitzgerald says she went hoping for answers but left feeling more confused than before.
The Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor told The Northern Pen the overall portrait of health care painted by LGH at that forum was very different from the one she’d been getting from those who work in the system, and health care clients.
“The feedback I’ve been getting from people who work within the health care system and from people I know who require health care services (provided) a different picture of what was going on and the needs of that system (than) what I heard there that day,” she said.
Fitzgerald, and others, also felt the forum was “too scripted.”
The people who attended were divided into discussion groups. Each group was presented a sheet with seven specific questions to discuss.
They were given 15-20 minutes for each topic.
These topics were selected based on a survey the town of St. Anthony distributed to the public last summer, asking for their concerns around health care on the GNP and southern Labrador.
The sheet also included questions LGH wanted to address.
Fitzgerald says there was some important discussion and participants were able to present good ideas.
But she still left with concerns, particularly about staffing and how it was portrayed by LGH.
“I hear stories about nurses that are tired and working day after day because there’s not enough of a pool to call-in,” she told The Northern Pen. “But talking to people at LGH, they say there are no vacancies. I don’t know what’s true.”
Boyd Noel was even more critical.
Noel, who was suspended from the LGH board of directors last year, described the meeting as the “biggest waste of time” he’s participated in in 50 years.
“It wasn’t one iota what the forum was planned for,” he said.
He had hoped some of the discussion would focus on the senior management of LGH, of whom he is critical from his time as chair of the LGH board.
But that subject was not on the list provided by the health authority.
“We still got that problem today because it wasn’t addressed,” he said.
Noel also criticized the town council of St. Anthony for allowing LGH to take over the forum.
He pointed out although it was the town that requested the forum, LGH hosted the meeting and dictated the terms of the discussion.
“And the town allowed them to do that,” he complained.
LGH also decreed the media would not be permitted to attend the forum.
St. Anthony mayor Desmond McDonald told The Northern Pen the forum was a joint effort between the town and LGH.
“Obviously, we needed to have the health authority involved because they had all the information that we wanted to access,” he said.
However, he agrees there could have been more discussion during the meeting.
“There are parts of the forum, in my opinion, I think probably could have been done differently, and I’m sure there were a number of people in attendance who had criticism of how certain things were done.”
Overall, though, McDonald says he feels the meeting was productive, with healthy aging of the population as well as recruitment and retention of staff among the topics for discussion.
He says some conversation centered around what the community can do to help retain staff within LGH.
Among the suggestions, he said, was “To give them a sense of community spirit, to make them feel a part of the community as opposed to them coming to do their contract time and leaving.”
However, he says people were disappointed there wasn’t any opportunity to share personal experiences about their own health care.
As for how the information from the meeting will be disseminated to the public, McDonald wasn’t sure.
“I guess time will tell if anything comes out of it,” he said. “They’re (LGH) going to prepare a report . . . hopefully it will be available to the municipalities or to people who want to avail of it. But it’s early and we don’t really know what’s going to come out of it.”
Mayor Fitzgerald hopes there’s a final report, but says that point was not made clear.
“We heard them say they’d take everyone’s suggestions and implement them into their strategic plan, but we never heard anything in terms of presenting a document to the public,” she said.
LGH CEO Heather Brown was unavailable for an interview with The Northern Pen prior to deadline.