By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 46 (Jan. 30, 2020)
Conception Bay South will soon be losing one busy, long-lived medical clinic next month, but not all the doctors are leaving town.
The Kelligrews Medical Clinic has been in operation for decades, located in the same building as Lawton’s Drugs in Kelligrews. Patients have been notified of the coming changes, and while a representative of the clinic confirmed for The Shoreline that it is closing, nobody was available for an interview.
Three of the doctors are opening a new location on the Foxtrap Access Road and a fourth doctor is setting up shop at another location in Kelligrews. A fifth doctor, Dr. James Sheppard, posted a notice in The Shoreline last fall that he will be leaving Kelligrews for the Airport Heights Medical Clinic on February 1. Several other doctors are believed to be heading to St. John’s as well.
Barry Petten, MHA for Conception Bay South, described the closure as a great loss for the community, and a sign of the trying times in Newfoundland when it comes to healthcare.
“That’s a part of a bigger problem,” Petten said. “There’s a shortage of family doctors, that’s well-documented. Upwards of 90,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians don’t have a family doctor right now, which is a huge number. The end result of that, you can see in the emergency rooms, because people have a minor ailment that could be dealt with easily by a family doctor, but (those people) are then taking up the emergency rooms because they’ve got no other choice. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Petten said that one of the first groups of people who came to mind when he heard the news was seniors. He noted many people rely on the current eight doctors who practice at Kelligrews Medical Clinic.
With half of them moving to St. John’s, Petten fears there may be a significant number of seniors without access to the same level of care they have enjoyed up to this point.
“It’ll create a lot of logistical problems as well that people don’t think about right away,” he said, referring to those looking to make the trek to St. John’s. “I don’t know if (seniors) will be able to continue to see their doctor, but they might not even have a choice. There’s no other doctors to see.”
Joy Davis is one of thousands of CBS residents who has relied on the clinic for her health care needs. She admitted she is concerned about how the community will move forward without it.
“I know there are people in Mount Carmel who go to that clinic, and probably even some from out towards Clarenville, because it’s the biggest (clinic) around,” she said. “Not to mention all the people along the shore. I mean, I have to go to St. John’s now just to see my doctor. It’s a really big impact here on the shore. I’m not even sure if people here on the shore know about it closing. If you haven’t been to your doctor since November, you probably don’t know, unless a neighbour or someone mentioned it to you.”
Petten, meanwhile, said the Official Opposition has been pushing the provincial government to take measures to retain more of the young doctors who graduate from medical school here.
“We’re producing lots of doctors. The problem is, they are not staying in the province,” said Petten. “The numbers show that we need roughly 640 to 650 doctors to take the burden off the system. We’d be in good shape, then. But right now, we’re in the 450 range,” he said.
He admitted that, technically, the province has the number of doctors it needs. However, the low number of family practitioners is where the problem lies. While the doctors are there, many are going on to specialize in other medical fields and are not opening family practices.
“So, that’s where we are,” said Petten. “It’s a very serious issue for us as a party and certainly for me as the MHA here. The shortage of family practitioners is something we’ve spoken out about in the past, and we’ll continue to speak to.
“When this does close, it’s going to become an even bigger issue in the community. I think right now it may not have struck home for people, but it will.”