Her daughter didn’t wake up — and Bonavista’s emergency room was closed

Two-year-old Scarlett Russell had pneumonia and tested positive for the influenza A virus.  (Submitted by Natasha Russell - photo credit)

Two-year-old Scarlett Russell had pneumonia and tested positive for the influenza A virus. (Submitted by Natasha Russell – photo credit)

Submitted by Natasha Russell

Submitted by Natasha Russell

Natasha Russell’s two-year-old daughter, Scarlett, didn’t wake up on Boxing Day morning.

She had been ill for a few days, but now Russell couldn’t get the toddler to stop sleeping.

Scarlett needed medical attention – fast – but the emergency room in Bonavista, where Russell lives with her husband and their three children, has been closed due to staff shortages. The nearest open emergency room was in Clarenville, 110 kilometers away.

The family got into their vehicle and drove off.

“I was afraid. I cried. My husband had to calm me down,” Russell, 26, told CBC News last week.

Russell and her husband Travis were already worried about their daughter – they took her to the hospital in Clarenville on Christmas Day but were sent home with Tylenol for children.

This time the toddler got a chest X-ray which showed she had pneumonia on her right lung and she tested positive for influenza A.

“They told me if I hadn’t brought her here… she could have basically died in her sleep. She was that bad. That’s how strict she was,” Russell said.

Darrell Roberts/CBC

Darrell Roberts/CBC

Scarlett was put on oxygen, put on antibiotics and started to get better. Russell said her daughter spent three nights and four days in the hospital.

The emergency room at the Bonavista Health Center, which serves more than 3,000 people in the city and thousands of others in the surrounding communities, was closed several times over the holidays.

Those closures have extended into 2023 – the emergency room has been closed several times this month and is scheduled to close again on Friday through at least Tuesday.

the solution of the problem

Since last summer, Bonavista residents have been holding rallies fighting benefit cuts and demanding better access to doctors.

Darrell Roberts/CBC

Darrell Roberts/CBC

On Monday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey announced the province would accept a new federal government health proposal. The deal includes an immediate cash injection of $27 million to relieve pressure on emergency rooms, children’s hospitals, and surgical and diagnostic backlogs.

But Furey said the additional funds alone will not solve rural health care problems.

“If it was just money, money would have fixed that a long time ago,” he said.

Newfoundland and Labrador spends more per capita on healthcare than any other province, but residents have a lower life expectancy than the Canadian average.

Hear Natasha Russell’s story in the video player below.

Still, Furey said he hopes the money will make a difference for rural communities – expanding rural access to health care is one of the joint provincial and federal priorities included in the proposal.

“Bonavista’s challenges are not exclusive to Bonavista,” he said.

“You are important and unique if you don’t have a GP as an individual, but these challenges exist throughout our province and throughout our country and arguably throughout our world.”

“A Pit in My Stomach”

Russell, a domestic worker, said she plans to raise her three children in Bonavista, the community where she grew up. But now she’s considering moving to a bigger city.

“Every time I notice the closures, I kind of get a hole in my stomach because … you don’t know what might happen,” she said.

Darrell Roberts/CBC

Darrell Roberts/CBC

Like thousands of other Newfoundland and Labrador residents, Russell’s family does not have a family doctor.

Recently, the Bonavista City Council announced plans to offer land and financial incentives to doctors who would be willing to come to the community — in addition to the existing provincial incentives.

“We’re trying what we can to sweeten the pot, if you will, and show that this is what the community really wants. We really want to find solutions,” said John Norman, Mayor of Bonavista.

He said the city hasn’t made any final decisions yet and he would like more help from the provincial government.

Russell said she hopes help is on the way, but right now she doesn’t feel safe in her home community.

“Life doesn’t stop. It will continue when the hospitals are closed,” she said. “Anything could happen.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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