Newfoundland and Labrador government offers ‘band-aid’ funds to end temporary emergency room closures at rural hospitals

ST. JOHN’S, NL — Rural doctors will get a temporary pay raise in an effort to retain them in some of the province’s smaller and more remote hospitals, the provincial government announced Thursday, July 14.

Premier Andrew Furey, Health Minister Tom Osborne and Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) President Dr. Kris Luscombe answered questions from the media about the Confederation Building Incentive to St. John’s.

“What we want to do is try to stabilize the system in the short term,” Furey said.

He hopes the extra money will work quickly to ease pressure on the health care system, which has been overwhelmed by frequent emergency room closures in rural hospitals and overwhelmed emergency rooms in major centers.

Osborne said precisely how the extra pay is allocated to doctors is a complicated formula, but simply put it will be about an extra $400 per shift, on top of regular doctor salaries, and doctors at some hospitals will get $150. more per stacked shift on top of that.

It is a temporary measure in place until the end of October, but Furey said that as the end date approaches there will be discussions about what happens next.

The idea, along with a dozen other suggestions, was presented to the government by the NLMA.

In an email from the NLMA, the organization that represents doctors said other ideas include everything from marketing strategies and recruitment incentives to an away bounty program and a new provincial locum program.

Luscombe said the extra funds will make working in smaller, more remote hospitals – called Category B hospitals – more attractive.

Funds are only available to physicians who will work in these Class B hospitals. Of the province’s 33 hospitals, 20 are considered Class B. Class A hospitals include those located in Burin, Carbonear, Grand Falls-Windsor , Clarenville, Gander, Stephenville, Labrador City, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, St. John’s, St. Anthony and Corner Brook. Everywhere else, hospitals are category B.

The goal is for the incentive to also reduce pressure on hospitals across the province.

“As Category B emergency services struggle, then of course this work ripples through Category A. It ripples through the entire system,” Luscombe said.

He said if these smaller sites are well-staffed, patients can get the care they need closer to home without traveling to a larger center, which also reduces pressure on urban hospitals.

Furey said rural emergency physicians do complex and challenging work.

“Some of these people are out there dealing with everything from coughs (and) colds to motor vehicle collisions to neurosurgical bleeding – in a remote area. And I think the challenges this presents deserve different incentives,” he said.

The cost of the incentive to the government will depend on the number of physicians who benefit from it.

Furey said the province is also working on medium- and long-term solutions, such as training and recruiting doctors, but that takes time.

“Sometimes you need a band-aid; you have to stop the bleeding,” he said.

Opposition health critic Paul Dinn said any incentive that encourages doctors to stay in the province is a good thing.

However, Dinn said he doesn’t know why it took so long to find what appears to be a simple fix, and he wasn’t sure about the temporary nature of the inducement.

“It’s not going to solve all of our problems, that’s for sure,” Dinn said.

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