Western Hospital in Alberton is the only rural emergency room in Prince Edward Island still operating 24 hours a day.
Changes being implemented this month will allow paramedics to sidestep rural emergency rooms and take patients experiencing trauma directly to one of Prince Edward Island's two referral hospitals
Until now, paramedics were encouraged to take most patients to the nearest emergency room.
The exception was stroke patients. They have been redirected to the stroke unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital since it opened in 2010.
Jamie MacDonald, acting director of medical affairs with Health P.E.I., says research shows the best outcomes are delivered when a patient receives care at a major trauma centre, one which has access to specialized tests, like CT scans, and access to specialized services, like a surgical ward.
"The focus is really what is best for the patient," MacDonald told The Guardian.
"It's not about, ‘we don't want to go to this hospital or that hospital.' That's not it at all. It's about the particular patient, how stable are they? What is their outcome? And where is the best place to take this person to achieve the best outcome for that patient?
"That's really what these policies are all about."
MacDonald said hospitals in Charlottetown and Summerside are equipped to deal with the additional patient load.
However, she added, it won't be a huge influx in new patients since many trauma patients end up at these hospitals anyway.
Four Island hospitals continue to deliver emergency room services.
The Island's two referral hospitals are the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown and the Prince County Hospital in Summerside.
Two rural hospitals, Western Hospital in Alberton and Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague, also operate emergency rooms.
Opposition Leader Olive Crane said this decision will further erode services at rural hospitals. She made reference to an internal report prepared for the province, which called for two emergency rooms in the province, in Charlottetown and Summerside.
"We just came through an election where the premier said he was going to maintain emergency services in rural hospitals, obviously he's not," said Crane.
Health Minister Doug Currie said the changes were made to improve patient safety and he denies it will further erode services at rural hospitals.
"We just came through an election where the premier said he was going to maintain emergency services in rural hospitals, obviously he's not," Opposition Leader Olive Crane
"It's got nothing to do with sustaining or delivering services in hospitals. It's making sure the trauma patient is given the most appropriate care by the right provider in the right situation."
Pat Murphy, MLA for Alberton-Roseville, said he's not concerned about the changes.
Western Hospital in Alberton is the only 24-hour rural emergency room left in the province.
"I've heard concerns at the doors," said the Liberal MLA.
"Our government is certainly well committed to rural hospitals in Prince Edward Island. I don't think there is anything to be worried about."
What is important, MacDonald said, is for patients to realize that care begins as soon as the paramedics arrive on the scene.
Care continues to be given while the patient is on route to either Charlottetown or Summerside.
There are now 130 paramedics in P.E.I.
About 40 of them are Advanced Care Paramedics.
The province's goal is to continue to add to the number of Advanced Care Paramedics until there is at least one in every ambulance.
"The new ambulances are very well equipped ... and with the increased training that the paramedics have received patients can feel comfortable that time in the ambulance is not just transport time."
What does Health P.E.I. consider a major trauma, whichmay prompt a paramedic to sidestep a rural emergency room and redirect the patient to hospitals in either Charlottetown or Summerside?
- Major car accident;
- gunshot or knife wound;
- skull fracture;
- low blood pressure that cannot be stabilized or any other time-sensitive life-threatening emergency.