Silver Celebration: Lots to applaud on “the boot!”


The Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre is well named. In many ways, it is central to community life on the Burin Peninsula – the hub of a wide array of health care services for the town of Burin and neighbouring areas.

It houses 41 acute care beds and provides a variety of services, including emergency services, surgery, dialysis, chemotherapy, outpatient specialist clinics, laboratory services, and diagnostic imaging.

Verna Snook, Environmental Services, Eastern Health

Verna Snook, Environmental Services, Eastern Health

It’s not only central to the life of the community, but also to the lives of those who call it their professional home. Take Verna Snook, for example. Now past the time when she could have retired, she chooses to stay on, claiming, “I love my job.”

Verna works in Environmental (laundry) services – has done so since 1974. And like Verna herself, laundry service has come a long way on the Burin Peninsula.

Health care heritage

She began her career in the old Cottage Hospital in nearby Ship Cove, where they hung freshly-washed sheets on the ceiling pipes to dry…and where they cleaned the operating rooms using a process Verna says they called “bombing the OR.” This meant closing the door and bombarding the empty room with a mixture of hot steam and disinfectant to clean the room following the surgeries performed there.

Those were the days when carpet was a common sight on hospital floors, according to Craig Grandy, who works with the Infrastructure Support Department. He says even the delivery room floor had carpet squares, which had to be washed and hung to dry after the babies were born!

Old Cottage Hospital in Burin – 1936-1988

Old Cottage Hospital in Burin – 1936-1988

Howard Lundrigan, now a Manager of Diagnostic Imaging, remembers those days well. He remembers when the defibrillator had to be charged after each use! “In the last days of the Cottage Hospital, as we were preparing to move to the new health care centre, we made do with clothes lines under the old hospital to hang their X-ray films to dry!”  He says they looked forward to the more advanced technology that awaited them.

He says those were the days when janitors were jacks of all trades – and helped out everywhere. They helped to hold patient’s arms in place for some diagnostic imaging procedures – and even peeled vegetables for meals!

Susan Poulain, a dietary worker who baked the 25th anniversary cake, remembers those days with a smile. Both of her parents worked at the hospital.  Her father was a janitor, and her mother also worked in the dietary service and made the transition from the Cottage Hospital to the new health centre – with great reluctance. Like all those who made the transition from the Cottage Hospital to the bigger, newer, more modern Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre, Susan says her mother feared that the close, ‘family feeling’ of the old hospital would be lost in the new facility.

Susan Poulain, Dietary worker and the remnants of her cake

Susan Poulain, Dietary worker and the remnants of her cake

With a laugh, Susan says ‘family practice’ also had a slightly different meaning on occasion in those early days. “I remember when I was a little girl bringing our family cat to the Cottage Hospital, bleeding after a bad cut to its paw. I was asked to sit and wait my turn, and then one of the doctors stitched up ‘Trixie’ as good as new!”

A world of change

In 1988, the Cottage Hospital closed its doors, and the staff moved up the road to Burin – and to a world of change. Pearl Denty, a dietary worker from Boat Harbour, says compared to the old hospital the new space was huge…and the kitchen so big she almost got lost! Computers replaced the handwritten menus for patients – a great improvement.

Craig Grandy says computers were just coming on stream there, and the first one he used was the size of a desk. The new health centre was also smoke-free – a big step forward for both patients and staff.

Another significant advance was the introduction of a Pharmacy Department. Betty Follett is a pharmacy technician who helped to build the pharmacy from the ground up. “It was really exciting to go from an empty building to full operation – the day when the patients arrived, and we started sending their medications to the floor.”

Betty Follett, Pharmacy Technician, Eastern Health

Betty Follett, Pharmacy Technician, Eastern Health

Betty remembers cleaning out the supplies from three cottage hospitals on the Burin Peninsula in preparation for the move to the new site, and replacing big jars of pills and gallon bottles of peroxide with the ‘unit dose system,’ which tailors medications to individual patients for a short period of time. Today, the pharmacy offers multiple services, including preparing individual chemotherapy treatments.

Twenty-five years is a relatively short time, but represents extraordinary change in the delivery of health care in Burin and the surrounding areas. One of the biggest benefits is the availability of comprehensive health services on a peninsula that is relatively isolated from the province’s larger health care facilities. Howard Lundrigan says, “Travel to get health care was always such a big deal to the residents of the Burin Peninsula. People were so pleased to have a new facility with access to specialists, which allowed them to stay close to home with less expense.”

Constant caring

During the anniversary celebrations Eastern Health’s President and CEO Vickie Kaminski declared there is one thing that has not changed over the years. “Health care services in the Burin area have undergone numerous changes in a quarter of a century, as service priorities evolved and technology advanced,” she said.  “What has remained constant is the dedication of our health care professionals and a commitment to quality service.”

Perhaps the easiest transition from the days of the old Cottage Hospital was the Burin Peninsula work ethic and pride in service among staff, physicians and volunteers. The last word goes to Betty Follett, a ‘transplant’ from St. John’s a quarter of a century ago:

“I was made to feel very welcome in Burin and a part of the community. This health centre has a real friendly, community feeling and people always have a smile – I feel very proud to have been a part of it over the past 25 years.” ■

Original employees of the Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre who are still on staff

Original employees of the Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre who are still on staff

This story was written by Deborah Collins, a Communications Manager in St. John’s.

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