'People are going to die': Last doctor leaves Fogo Island

Entering or leaving Fogo Island can be a long journey, with residents required to drive to the nearest port to board a scheduled ferry to the town of Gander, a crossing that takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. (Photo by Erik Mclean via Pexels)

The Fogo Island Health Clinic's last permanent doctor will be leaving the practice and the island in June, making residents more vulnerable, says the Mayor of Fogo Island, Andrew Shea.

Fogo Island, the largest offshore island of Newfoundland and Labrador, is known for its fishing communities and tourism. However, with a declining population, mainly over the age of 50, Mayor Shea worries about the departure impacting residents’ access to emergency services and jeopardizing the town’s status as a tourist hub.

“If we don't have an advanced paramedic here, then the way it operates is that our emergency system will shut down. And a call for an ambulance would mean a trip directly to Gander, which could take anywhere from three to five hours,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

Entering or leaving Fogo Island can be a long journey, with residents required to drive to the nearest port to board a scheduled ferry to the town of Gander, a crossing that takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

The island is often subject to delays in the ferry schedule and unpredictable maritime storms.

“And if it's in the nighttime, we have no crew on the ferry. So you will have to call in a crew before the ferry can go,” said Mayor Shea.

“This could take anywhere from three to five hours to get you to Gander and if you're in a medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke, (you’re) not going make it. People are going to die.”

Fogo Island is also internationally recognized as the home of the Fogo Island Inn, one of Canada’s most expensive and famous hotels.

Its cheapest nightly rate starts at $2,575 and has previously hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The hotel doesn’t offer information on its website about emergency medical services and did not respond to CTVnews.ca’s request for a comment.

The Fogo Island Health Clinic's doctor will be leaving the post on June 19. Mayor Shea says that Newfoundland and Labrador Central Health has arranged locums for six or seven weeks before the system will switch to virtual medicare.

The town also plans on moving forward by advertising locally and nationally for doctors, Mayor Shea said.

“This is the place to come. People are coming here and building big houses. People are coming here to live. Because it's a nice remote area … we're an ideal place to come and raise a family,” he said.