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They've built it. But radiation oncologists aren't coming to Corner Brook, at least not yet

The new acute care hospital in Corner Brook is intended to provide a second location in the province to receive radiation therapy services. (Colleen Connors/CBC  - image credit)
The new acute care hospital in Corner Brook is intended to provide a second location in the province to receive radiation therapy services. (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)
The new acute care hospital in Corner Brook is intended to provide a second location in the province to receive radiation therapy services.
The new acute care hospital in Corner Brook is intended to provide a second location in the province to receive radiation therapy services.

The new acute care hospital in Corner Brook is intended to provide a second location in the province to receive radiation therapy services. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

A Newfoundland man who pushed to get radiation therapy at Corner Brook's new regional hospital is disheartened to find out that the health authority has not yet recruited a radiation oncologist for the new unit.

Gerald Parsons had a family member going through radiation therapy back when the Corner Brook hospital was in the planning stage and, as co-chair of the Western Region Hospital Action Committee, he helped to successfully lobby for a commitment from government to offer radiation therapy in western Newfoundland.

Until now, St. John's has had the only radiation therapy facility in the province, resulting in lengthy travel and long stays away from home for any cancer patient from outside the metro region, with people in western Newfoundland, the Northern Peninsula and Labrador the farthest distance away.

However, with the new regional hospital in Corner Brook set to open this summer, and a fully equipped radiation therapy facility ready to go, the province's health minister confirmed recently that a radiation oncologist has not yet been recruited for the new unit.

Parsons says that's not good enough, arguing it's been been nearly five years since a contract was awarded in June 2019 to start construction of the hospital, including radiation services.

"To know now that they don't have enough staff to maintain it, I don't know what to think. It's disheartening," said Parsons.

Parsons said he personally witnessed the toll it took on his family member when they had to travel to St. John's for five weeks to get radiation therapy. Parsons said they had to cover the cost of travelling, staying in a hotel and buying meals, all while keeping up the expense of a house back in Corner Brook.

Gerald Parsons is the co-chair of the Hospital Action Committee in Corner Brook that advocates for better health care services for those living on the west coast of the province.
Gerald Parsons is the co-chair of the Hospital Action Committee in Corner Brook that advocates for better health care services for those living on the west coast of the province.

Gerald Parsons is the co-chair of Corner Brook's Hospital Action Committee, which advocates for better health-care services for those living on Newfoundland's west coast. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Help wanted

Eddie Joyce, Independent MHA for Humber-Bay of Islands, raised the issue in the House of Assembly earlier this month.

Tom Osborne, minister of health and community services, responded by confirming N.L. Health Services is struggling to recruit a radiation oncologist.

"They continue to try and recruit for that position, but they are looking at additional options," said Osborne on March 6.

Joyce said it's disappointing to find out that needed staff aren't yet in place. People deserve to know whether they'll have access to radiation therapy at the new hospital, he said.

"Let's tell the people if it's not going to open," said Joyce. "Let's give people the honest facts that, 'No, it's not going to be open right now. Here's the reasons why.'"

Independent MHA Eddie Joyce said it's disappointing to learn that the new regional hospital in Corner Brook has not yet recruited a radiation oncologist.
Independent MHA Eddie Joyce said it's disappointing to learn that the new regional hospital in Corner Brook has not yet recruited a radiation oncologist.

Independent MHA Eddie Joyce says it's disappointing to learn the new regional hospital in Corner Brook has not yet recruited a radiation oncologist. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

As of Monday, online job listings for N.L. Health Services show two openings for radiation oncologists in Corner Brook.

The positions were advertised as early as June 2023, but were reposted in February.

The estimated salary for each of the positions starts at $263,672, in addition to a signing bonus of $175,000 and a "come home incentive" of $100,000 for Newfoundlanders who've lived outside the province for at least six months.

The health authority has not responded to a request for an interview.

Hard fight

Parsons said he believes the hospital action committee's lobby efforts were what led to radiation therapy in Corner Brook.

"There would never have been radiation on the west coast. It wasn't on nobody's radar," said Parsons.

Health and Community Services Minister Tom Osborne told the House of Assembly earlier this month that a radiation oncologist had not yet been recruited for Corner Brook.
Health and Community Services Minister Tom Osborne told the House of Assembly earlier this month that a radiation oncologist had not yet been recruited for Corner Brook.

Health and Community Services Minister Tom Osborne told the House of Assembly earlier this month that a radiation oncologist has not yet been recruited for Corner Brook. (Arlette Lazarenko/CBC)

It was in 2014 that the provincial Liberal government confirmed the addition of radiation therapy for the new regional hospital.

"They've had lots of time to look for a radiation oncologist," said Parsons.

Joyce said it's time to ensure that the state-of-the-art hospital has the staff it needs to operate.

"I just urge the government to do whatever they can do to get this facility open, the radiation unit open. It's so important to the people of western Newfoundland and Labrador," Joyce said.

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