ELMSDALE – West Prince residents who didn’t get a chance to sign a petition while heading into a forum on emergency room services at Western Hospital were lining up to do so afterwards.
The forum, which was held Thursday night at Westisle High School, attracted 175 people, almost all of them from West Prince. The petition they were signing simply read: “We, the residents of West Prince request the Province of Prince Edward Island and Health P.E.I. to commit to the ongoing, long term, 24/7 access to ER (Emergency Room) services with full physician coverage at Western Hospital.”
The audience gave the 11-person committee that organized the forum the mandate to work towards solutions to the physician availability issue which has resulted in repeated ER closures at Western.
Moderator Bob Lockhart suggested if the committee cannot get government’s agreement on identified solutions, then another meeting can be called.
To start things off, Alberton-Roseville MLA Pat Murphy read a statement from Health and Wellness Minister Doug Currie, offering his commitment to maintaining services at Western Hospital.
“My priority is to have consistent, safe, stable, health-care services for all parts of the province,” the statement read.
“We know that the current situation is not ideal, so we’re looking for solutions, both long-term and immediate.”
He said Health P.E.I. has had numerous discussions with the local physicians and there are alternate shift schedules that might work better.
Murphy added his own thoughts to the discussion, stressing that he is confident in government’s commitment to the hospital's ER. If he were not, he said, he would be leading the challenge to get such a commitment.
“They said in August that we wouldn’t be closed, and here it’s January and we have been closed 12 times. That’s a deep concern of mine.” - Natasha Dunn
PC MLA Hal Perry said he has been accused of fear-mongering on the Western Hospital issue but he countered that government caused the fear with its announcement of 12 dates in January that the ER would be closed.
Natasha Dunn, one of the organizers, acknowledged Currie’s assurance that, after January, locums are available and should address any shortfall until the end of April, but she wonders what about after that.
“We need our service in West Prince,” she stressed.
“They said in August that we wouldn’t be closed, and here it’s January and we have been closed 12 times. That’s a deep concern of mine.”
“We need to put pressure on government to make sure our ER stays open,“ Dunn said following the 85-minute forum. “If they hadn’t had this much pressure, I think government would have been sitting back holding their breath, hoping that no one really noticed.”
Dunn said the meeting at least gave residents the opportunity to have their say.
Another of the organizers, Rosetta Tremblay, said she was pleased to see a good cross-section of West Prince coming together to fight for Western Hospital services, but she said she’s disappointed they got no real answers.
"They’re saying they can’t get the doctors. Well, what I’m hearing is they can get the doctors. Pay them.”