Western Hospital in Alberton
Emergency room closures have become a persistent problem in western P.E.I. and Health Minister Doug Currie is looking to Nova Scotia for a possible solution.
Currie, Finance Minister Wes Sheridan and a few other MLAs are heading to the mainland this week to look at how some Nova Scotia hospitals have used paramedics and other health-care workers to keep their emergency rooms open.
"We're looking at the model and seeing what the potential opportunities are," he said.
The trip comes at a time when Health P.E.I. is closing the emergency room overnight at Western Hospital in Alberton for almost half the month of January.
It was also closed for a full 24 hours on Jan. 13.
Currie said his focus is on looking for solutions to the emergency room problem in Alberton.
"If you always do what you always did you always get what you always got," he said.
Before the province makes any changes it will need to have discussions with the Medical Society of P.E.I., the P.E.I. Nurses Union and Island EMS, Currie said.
"The role of the advance care paramedic, bringing them into a hospital is new and different."
Currie said the province is bringing in locums to fill temporary positions in western P.E.I. and is recruiting to find permanent doctors.
The changes could mean more paramedics in P.E.I. as their roles are expanded, but at this point the province is just looking at the different model and how it could be implemented, Currie said.
"My priority is consistent, stable, safe health-care services in all communities on Prince Edward Island."
Among the facilities Currie plans to visit is the All Saints Springhill Hospital in Springhill where they use a collaborative emergency centre (CEC) model.
Ann Keddy, a spokeswoman for the Cumberland Health Authority, which includes Springhill's hospital, said the change came after an emergency care specialist the Nova Scotia government hired suggested doctors concentrate on seeing more patients during the day.
He suggested paramedics and emergency room nurses staff overnight emergency room hours at smaller rural hospitals with an emergency room specialist available for consultation by phone, Keddy said.
"In all cases they call the medical oversight physician."
Cumberland Health Authority's first collaborative emergency centres opened in July 2011, with two more opening in 2012.
Those centres are in Pugwash, Springhill and Parrsboro.
Along with the emergency rooms staying open, Keddy said the doctors have been able to see more of their regular patients because they aren't taking time off from their practice when they work overnight in the ER.
"They work longer days but they don't have that phone ringing at three o'clock in the morning," she said.
Keddy said the move to emergency collaborative centres has made a big difference at the rural hospitals.
In Pugwash the hospital's emergency room was closed for 1,400 hours during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, she said.
Keddy said since then it hasn't closed at all, which meant people in the community never had to wonder if it was open.
"There's always somebody there."