Birdseye View of the Placentia Health Centre (Source: Lee Everts).
The Placentia Health Centre is a relatively recent addition to the landscape of the Placentia area. It emerges from a long history of healthcare. Undoubtedly, it reflects an ongoing investment in healthcare.
Placentia stands as part of a strong healthcare network. Recent changes, however, are adding tension to the healthcare system. The goal will be to hold onto a system buoyed by a rich heritage of healthcare.
As early as 1698, health was already a concern for residents. At this time, there was apparently a hospital located in Placentia near a lime kiln used for the construction of forts and fortifications such as Fort Louis.1
A first edition of the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, in Spanish (left), and a copy printed in 1714 in Latin and English (right). ( Source: Wikipedia).
As the years progressed and following the War of the Spanish Succession, Placentia was ceded to Britain from France in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. Placentia became the military headquarters and continued to provide medical services. However, as more people settled in the Placentia area and on the islands of Placentia Bay, health became a personal or community responsibility.
Thus, care and maintenance of health was approached using a mixture of beliefs, home remedies and knowledge derived from past experience. This art and skill of healing was often equal to what the medical profession would offer years and decades later in hospitals. Certain people within the community would have been regularly called upon to provide medical assistance for injuries—births, deaths and so on.
Health in the Twentieth Century
Nevertheless, more needed to be done. Hence, it was the Commission of Government2 who, having taken office from 1934 to 1949, recognised the need for a greater investment in healthcare. Charged with reviving the ailing the economy of the Dominion of Newfoundland, one of the initiatives of the Commission of Government was intended to rectify health inequities across the island.
The Commission of Government borrowed a scheme used in Scotland—cottage hospitals. They were ideal as they could be used to service a population that was widely dispersed. One of the first cottage hospitals was situated in Argentia. However, when an agreement was made with the United States to permit their use of the land for a military base in Argentia, the community and everything else, including the hospital, needed to be moved and resettled.
Photograph of the Placentia Cottage Hospital (Source: Anonymous).
The hospital was then moved to Placentia. Hence, by 1949, thirteen of the eighteen hospitals were built. These included hospitals in Old Perlican, Markland, Burgeo, Harbour Breton, Come By Chance, Stephenville Crossing, Bonavista, Norris Point, Grand Bank, Placentia, Brookfield, Gander and Botwood.
Under the Commission of Government, nursing stations were also dotted around Newfoundland and Labrador. Along with the cottage hospitals, hospital ships provided floating clinics. For instance, the MV Lady Anderson serviced close to 75 settlements along the southwest coast of Newfoundland. Afterwards, it plied the waters of Placentia Bay where it was also used to transport patients to and fro the Placentia Cottage Hospital.
Entering the Modern Era
Since the early 1940s, the Placentia cottage hospital remained as a sentinel for the provision of health for the Placentia area. However, change was on the horizon. In April of 1986, the Lions Manor Nursing Home opened its doors. Ten years afterwards, the heritage of health in the Placentia area continued to evolve when the Placentia Health Centre was built.
Then, two years later in October of 1998, the bricks and mortar of the old Cottage Hospital were taken down. Nonetheless, its memory as a place where residents could seek health care has remained safely housed in the touching stories of residents.
Current Health System
Despite its rich background, the current healthcare system for the Placentia Bay area, as a part of Newfoundland and Labrador, is beset with challenges. Top of the list are wait times for various surgeries. In a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), at 60%, Canada topped the list along with Norway in terms of wait-times for medical care.
Photograph of William H. Newhook Health Centre (Source: Eastern Health).
Other challenges also stress the system. Nowadays, Emergency Rooms (ER) are closing in rural centres in Newfoundland and Labrador. It places a strain on the health system. The William H. Newhook Health Centre closed in Whitbourne, forcing residents to either go to Carbonear, St. John’s or Placentia. First and foremost, it’s an additional burden for these residents who are distraught at the loss of their Health Centre, as well as for the receiving ER.
Unquestionably, there is a lot of room for improvement for health care in Newfoundland and Labrador. The situation at William H. Newhook Health Care centre merely serves as a representation of what can happen in any of the communities, such as Placentia.Hilda Whelan, the mayor of Whitbourne says they’ve just been exceptionally lucky no deaths have resulted from the closure of the Health Care Centre.
Not so for others apparently. When the Canadian Institute for Health Information on “Avoidable Deaths From Treatable Causes” for Newfoundland and Labrador, the province did not fare well. While Canada as a whole rated 65. Newfoundland and Labrador scored an 87, well below average performance.
On a Final Note
The health care in the Placentia area surroundings has been in existence officially since 1698. Undoubtedly, the heritage of health in the Placentia area is deep and interesting, one firmly etched into its identity. In the 17th century, the investment in health was a top priority. The goal is for it to remain an integral part of the landscape in the years to come.
Antle, Sarah 2022 “Patience running out in Whitbourne, as emergency room remains closed for 7th straight week” CBC NL https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/whitbourne-emergency-room-closed-1.6550006
Canadian Institute For Health Information 2023 “Avoidable Deaths From Treatable Causes details for Newfoundland and Labrador” https://yourhealthsystem.cihi.ca/hsp/indepth?lang=en#/indicator/038/2/C10151/
Kulkarni, Akshay 2022 “Emergency rooms in rural B.C. were closed for equivalent of around 4 months in 2022, data shows” CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-er-closures-2022-1.6689970
Modjeski, Morgan 2022 “Emergency room closures in rural Manitoba a growing concern after patient dies being turned away” City News Everywhere https://winnipeg.citynews.ca/2022/05/08/emergency-room-closures-rural-manitoba/
Savoury, George 1975 The Cottage Hospital System in Newfoundland (St. John’s : Memorial University of Newfoundland)
Simmonds, Matthew 20122 “The 2012 Field Season at Fort Louis, Jerseyside, Placentia” Provincial Archaeology Office, 2010 Archaeology Review, March 2011 Volume 9 https://www.gov.nl.ca/tcar/files/Vol9-2010.pdf
Wilhelm. Henrike 2023 “Frustrated Whitbourne residents protest ongoing ER closure — and promise more rallies to come” https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/whitbourne-er-closure-protest-1.6753369
1. The source for this information is unknown. Although it is reasonable to assume that forts would contain hospitals to address the needs of their soldiers.
2. The Commission of Government was appointed by the British government which took control of Newfoundland in 1933. Economically, Newfoundland was in dire straits. The general feeling was that Newfoundland needed to take a rest from responsible government for the moment.