Health Minister Doug Currie says he is committed to keeping Alberton’s emergency room open 24/7, but only as long as there are doctors willing and able to work there.
Currie held a closed-door meeting with the four West Prince MLAs Tuesday morning in Charlottetown to hear their concerns and provide an update on the problematic health-care situation in western P.E.I.
He told the MLAs he wants to maintain emergency services at Western Hospital, but cannot force doctors to work in the emergency room.
“We’re committed to 24/7 emergency room services as long as we have the physicians to provide those services, which is a challenge,” Currie said.
“In the ideal world, we’d love to be able to recruit physicians in that automatically want to work in the emergency room, but we only have so much control over that.”
Alberton’s emergency room must close its doors for six days this month, due to a lack of physicians willing to cover summer vacations at the hospital. As a result, all ambulances are being diverted to Summerside during August due to hospital’s sporadic hours.
The problems stem from the fact that although West Prince currently has 10 practising doctors — just two shy of its full complement — only four of these physicians are willing to work in the emergency room.
That’s why the O’Leary Health Centre walk-in clinic has been closed almost as often as it has been open for the past several months.
Tourism Minister Robert Henderson, who represents the riding of O’Leary-Inverness, said his constituents are concerned about inconsistent access to physicians in the community. He brought those concerns to Currie’s attention during the meeting Tuesday.
But he said he has also been trying to get people to understand the bigger picture of health care in the province and that sometimes they will have to travel to other areas for certain health services.
“There’s always concern and fears out there about how health care is going to be delivered and everybody looks at mostly the worst possible scenarios,” Henderson said.
“I think it’s important that we have timely access to service and that our primary health-care services are available in a reasonable time period and get people, as part of the bigger picture of health care, to the appropriate location for those services wherever that may be in P.E.I. or the Maritimes.”
But residents of West Prince will not be readily appeased.
A protest staged at Western Hospital Monday night drew more than 400 people, many of whom became frustrated with comments from Health P.E.I. CEO Keith Dewar, who tried to explain the situation to the crowd.
Opposition MLA Hal Perry, who represents the western riding of Tignish-Palmer Road, says he doesn’t buy Currie’s commitment to a 24/7 emergency room in Alberton.
He pointed to Currie’s addendum that this will only happen “as long as we have the physicians to provide those services.”
“‘If’ we are able to? I think that means this government has a plan to close the ER. I really believe that,” Perry said in response.
He and those who protested Monday evening are worried Western Hospital may soon face the fate of the former hospital in O’Leary, which was shifted into a primary care health centre.
“They pulled the wool over our eyes before with Community Hospital in O’Leary where they made a commitment to keeping the ER open 24/7 then they slowly started to erode the services until now
we have no ER there at all,” Perry said.
“We’re not taking any chances … we’re going to be as vocal as we possibly can to raise awareness of what’s going on.”