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Two new doctors practising in Lewisporte

Two independent investigations into Central Health's administration were announced in the same week after complaints from staff about alleged mismanagement and unfair treatment.
-file photo

High turnover at local clinic and lack of doctors at new private clinic a concern

LEWISPORTE, N.L. – Two doctors have left their practices in Lewisporte after only a few years in the area.
Dr. Ali Al-Gharbawy, who had been in Lewisporte since June 2016, wrapped up his practice on Monday, July 23, while Dr. Bilal Atta Hasan Al-Azawi, who has worked in the community since July 2015 ended his practice on Saturday, July 28.

“I think in most rural places the biggest concern is probably turnover. It’s hard to have continuity of care when your family physician is changing on a regular basis.

- Dr. Jeff Cole

Dr. Jeff Cole is vice-president of Medical Services with the physicians’ employer Central Health. He says there is a steady turnover of doctors in rural locations of central Newfoundland, and that this continual changing of doctors is a concern for patients in rural areas across Canada.
“I think in most rural places the biggest concern is probably turnover,” Cole said. “It’s hard to have continuity of care when your family physician is changing on a regular basis.
“The thought of every two or three years having to refresh your story and tell someone new about things, that doesn’t know you intimately, is always a bit hard.”
According to Cole, several months ago both Al-Gharbawy and Al-Azawi had indicated to Central Health their intentions to leave the Lewisporte area, and Central Health has been preparing for their departure for some time.
Dr. Ghassan Hussain, moving from Old Perlican, took over Al-Gharbawy’s practice on July 23, the same date as Al-Gharbawy’s departure.
Dr. Dina Al-Abdulwahid took over Al-Azawi’s practice on Aug. 1, moving to Lewisporte from St. Alban’s. There is a three-day gap between Al-Azawi’s departure and when Al-Abdulwahid takes over the practice, but Cole says this kind of gap will not affect emergency services or cause much disruption.
While this turnover can cause some issues and strain for patients, Cole says Lewisporte is one of Central Health’s better locations for recruiting doctors. According to an emailed response from Central Health, there are 77 family physicians currently practicing with Central Health and three vacancies.
“Some sites we have a harder time letting people go because it’s much more remote and rural [than Lewisporte],” Cole said. “We tend to have people lining up to fill up spots in Lewisporte.”

The Concerned Citizens’ Committee has devoted the past seven years to building a private medical clinic in Lewisporte. Chairman Walter Dawe says all that’s needed to operate the clinic is doctors. From left to right, Rev. Arthur Elliott, Walter Dawe and Hector Pearce. - Kyle Greenham

Still struggling to find doctors
However, a private clinic in Lewisporte that opened earlier this year has yet to have success recruiting doctors.
Concerned Citizens Committee chairman Walter Dawe says he and fellow committee members are frustrated that this new medical centre, with plentiful space, medical equipment and an on-site pharmacy, has yet to go into full operation.
While they do not own the clinic, the committee played a vital role in making this private clinic a reality. Dawe had hoped that by now there would be two doctors and possibly a nurse practitioner lined up to work in the facility.

Project developer and owner Dennis Fudge is directly involved with recruitment efforts. He was reached for comment but was not available for an interview by deadline.
“I know some doctors have met with Mr. Fudge but have not come to an agreement,” Dawe said. “We do plan in the future to get [Concerned Citizens Committee members] Rev. Arthur Elliott, Hector Pearce and myself together with Mr. Fudge to see if there’s something we can do to help get a doctor in there.”
Mike Pearce was project manager during the construction and opening phase of the clinic, but says he has since stepped away and is not as directly involved.
Back in March, Pearce was preparing to meet with medical students at Memorial University in St. John’s in hopes of advertising this private facility to future doctors and nurses. But this ultimately did not come to fruition.
“That particular event got cancelled and never occurred,” said Pearce. “I still did up some literature and information and sent it into the med school so they were at least aware.”
According to both Dawe and Pearce, in recent months Fudge has met with a few doctors to hire at the clinic. While there are prospects, neither Dawe nor Pearce have not heard of any agreements yet between Fudge and potential physicians.

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Cole says Central Health is aware of the situation with the private clinic and the community’s concern with its lack of doctors. He says Central Health has occasional meetings with Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine and its staff and students, but it is not common to have meetings to recruit students to a specific clinic or town.
“The thing is this clinic is a private business and we are a public institution, so meshing the two together is always a bit hard,” said Cole. “At this point we won’t be having conversations [with Memorial University] about particularly bringing people to Lewisporte.”
Cole plans to meet with Fudge and others concerned in the Lewisporte community to further discuss these issues around doctor recruitment at the new clinic.
“I’ve committed to working with Mr. Fudge and I’ve also committed to sit down with the town and community members to work through these concerns,” he said.

Central Health by the numbers
94,000 people covered

117 communities

77 family physicians practising

3 vacancies
-Source: Central Health

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