Port residents complain to MLA about clinic closure

  • Mar. 9, 2005 6:00 a.m.

By Nancy O’Higgins-The Northern Health Authority got a hammering, Jonna Mattiesing got a round of applause and North Coast MLA Bill Belsey got an earful at a heated meeting in Port Clements Monday afternoon.
Mr. Belsey told 75 people at the Port hall that he will find out why they don’t have the health care they need in their community. The meeting was arranged at short notice Monday by Port resident Kay Waring so that village residents could tell their MLA how upset they are at the way the Port clinic has been shut – the clinic space is still leased from the village but it stands empty most of the time.
Support was overwhelming for forcibly retired nurse Jonna Matiesing with outcries and cheering. Ms Mattiesing was told in October that she would have to retire because she was over 65. Her last day at work was Feb. 25.
Ms Mattiesing told the meeting that if Mr. Belsey finds out it is possible, she is willing to work as an unpaid volunteer, but she doesn’t want to go in without permission. “I care about the community. I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”
Mr. Belsey said federal legislation may require retirement at 65, but he isn’t sure that the Health Authority hasn’t used that as a way to cut services.
Issues raised at the two-hour meeting were the closing of the clinic except for when doctors are present on Mondays, the cancellation of prescription drop-off at the clinic, and difficulty getting to see specialists.
Ms Waring said that “if 65 is written in stone as a retirement age, then the Northern Health Authority had two years to put a plan for Port Clements clinic in place. They had at least the four months since the issue was raised to put a contingency plan in place so there was not a break in service and that was overlooked completely.”
Ron Decembrini, president of Port Seniors Association, said Port people can only get a prescription filled the same day in Masset by seeing a doctor before 10 am and handing the prescription in before 10:30 in order to get it back from Queen Charlotte at 4:30. Which means a sick person has to wait all day in Masset or return the next day. He added that many seniors don’t drive.
Nurse Marg Fennell said she was told by Sue Beckermann, health services administrator, that it might not be legal for a nurse to hand out prescriptions as has been done at the Port clinic. But, Ms Fennell said, the person handing them out in Masset is not a pharmacy technician, and pharmacies are willing to mail prescriptions to patients. “Why is it acceptable for the postmistress to hand it to you but not a nurse?” she asked.
She said if those calling Ms Beckermann were told that it would be difficult to fill the job, that she would have been interested before she took her current job, and that she has friends in the area who are fully qualified to do the job.
“I’ve been covering in Port since ’94,” Ms Fennell said. “It’s a commonsense job; we de-fuse problems, save people money by screening and keeping them from emergency rooms.” She says the other available and qualified nurses had been reluctant to put themselves forward because they didn’t want to be seen to be pushing Ms Mattiesing out.
“I’m sure Sue Beckermann will say we need to reinvent the wheel,” Ms Fennell said, “but there are outposts all over Northern Canada (served by nurse practitioners). We’re not looking for VGH up here. What we want is not complicated.”
When the subject of hiring Ms Mattiesing on contract came up, Mr. Belsey said he would find out from Northern Health Authority if there is an age limit for contract workers.
“I’m willing to go to work and fight for you on this. A lot more times than not I win the battle. I’ll try to find out why they (the NHA) aren’t in here talking to you. If it is funding, they need to say. We need to do something here,” Mr. Belsey said.
One of the complaints voiced repeatedly at the meeting was that an ad has been appearing in the Observer saying prescriptions were no longer available at the Port clinic including a phone number to call Ms Beckermann if they had questions, but no one was able to get through to her at that number. A few people mentioned that personnel from Northern Health Authority were on the Charlottes recently and didn’t contact Ms Mattiesing, and didn’t tell the pharmacy that Ms Mattiesing was leaving Feb. 25.
“I’m a Northern Health Authority employee and she (Ms Beckermann) doesn’t return my calls either,” Ms Fennell said. “When I left a message that I couldn’t cover Port, she didn’t telephone but emailed Dawn Edwards (at Masset hospital) that she would pull one of Dawn’s staff to cover Port clinic.”
Masset hospital is currently under siege with a stream of flu sufferers coming for treatment. It is hard to imagine how Masset could spare a nurse at the moment for the Port Clements clinic.
Claudette Lavoie, principal of Port Clements Elementary, said that her concerns were the lack of ability to get service on a daily basis. For the school, having the clinic staffed next door has been a big bonus. Ms Mattiesing could make decisions about whether a school injury needed to go to emergency in Masset and call the parents. “Now everyone has to go to emergency. It has inconvenienced the whole community.”
Ms Mattiesing did weekly checks at the school as well as monthly programs. She taught proper hand washing and many programs that are important, especially in flu season, but that you don’t really see.
“If we were stuck in the middle of the night we called Jonna,” Ms Lavoie added. “It has all been taken away without any consideration for the community. We were promised the clinic would stay open.”
Mayor Dale Lore noted that the truck carrying the prescriptions drives right past Port on its way to Masset. “When there is a nurse in the clinic, there is someone to dispense it. This has been a community disaster.”
He brought up the point that if seniors need medication, someone else picks it up for them so it isn’t being dispensed with expert advice.
“It’s $300 a visit to go to emergency and $50 to visit the clinic,” the mayor added. He said that at the very least the people skills of NHA personnel has to improve. “We need someone to champion us and give us some help. We’re leasing you the clinic; we’re willing to pay Jonna for 30 days as a contract.”
When Ms Mattiesing spoke during the meeting she explained that she didn’t receive notification of her termination or the written policy of the necessity for retirement until “I got my walking papers, the day I got the letter. They left everyone high and dry. If they want me out then do it professionally and serve the community. They (health authority) are here for us so we can work and stay healthy. They have forgotten they are in the health-care business.”
Mr. Belsey suggested that everyone concerned write a letter to the Northern Health Authority and copy it to him or to him and copy it to the NHA and the minister of health.