Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor calls for Labrador-only health authority

Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen says there should be more hospital beds and specialists in Labrador. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is calling for a reorganization of regional health boards across the province and the creation of a Labrador health authority.

Wally Andersen says too many resources are concentrated in Labrador -Grenfell Health’s island locations; namely, the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony.

“We’re not going to go and divide and conquer,” the mayor began, “we want to work with all the stakeholders, but we want a better a service.”

Labrador’s healthcare ties to the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland date back to the early 1900s, when medical missionary Wilfred Grenfell established clinics in St. Anthony and coastal Labrador.

But Andersen believes Labrador has outgrown the historic relationship, and needs dedicated resources.

“We’re not putting Happy Valley-Goose Bay or Labrador against St. Anthony. It’s just that we honestly and truly believe that at the hospital here … we need a good healthcare service,” he said.

High birth rate

The mayor points to birth rates to back up his argument. Andersen said sources inside the healthcare system told him there were 98 babies born in Labrador West last year, 350 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and 60 in St. Anthony.

At the same time, Andersen claimed, the only two pediatricians working for Labrador-Grenfell Health are stationed in St. Anthony. He also said Labrador hospitals had a higher ratio of patients-to-beds.

Andersen says far more babies are born in Labrador than on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. Baby Matthew, pictured here in mom Amber Saksagiak’s arms, was the first baby born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 2018. (twitter.com/LGHealthNL)

“I think it’s pretty hard to justify these kind of numbers.”

Neither Labrador-Grenfell Health nor the provincial health department could confirm Andersen’s statistics on birth rates, but Health Minister John Haggie said “the number of beds in St. Anthony is smaller than he quoted.”

Minister “focused on the needs”

In an interview with CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning, Haggie said Andersen “raised a very important set of points about location of services and level of services,” but he hadn’t heard similar concerns from Labrador Grenfell staff.

“I don’t dispute the mayor’s concern about the levels of care, but I also have not received any concerns through Labrador Grenfell on the ground in smaller communities that they have significant, worrisome, unmet needs,” the minister said.

Health Minister John Haggie says he’s not focused on “opening up acts and rewriting governance laws.” (Jacob Barker/CBC)

As for reorganizing the province’s four health boards, Haggie was non-committal.

“I have an equal number of people, for example, who would like to see the province have a single health board,” he said.

“I’m much more focused on the needs of the population than I am, necessarily, on opening up acts and rewriting governance laws.”

Andersen concedes that an organizational overhaul may not be necessary if specialists and other resources were moved to Labrador.

“We just want to make sure that we have a good healthcare service, with good, adequate healthcare providers to provide the best service to people in Labrador, which they deserve.”

CBC News requested an interview with Labrador Grenfell Health on Tuesday and Wednesday. The health authority has yet to comment.

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