Sweeping changes to P.E.I.’s health system announced Tuesday will see a fundamental shift in the role community hospitals play in the province.
O’Leary, Tyne Valley and Souris hospitals will no longer offer acute care services and Western Hospital in Alberton will be turned into a collaborative emergency centre, where an ER physician will only be on site until 8 p.m.
Health Minister Doug Currie said these changes are necessary in order to meet the evolving health needs of the Island’s aging population.
“What it’s really about is, it’s a realignment and using our assets and our community hospitals to support the PCH and the QEH,” Currie told reporters during a news conference Tuesday in Charlottetown.
“We’re seeing some pretty staggering numbers in terms of the impact that our inability to move patients through our system is having on our elective surgeries, hips and knees for example, so this is about protecting our acute care beds in our two larger facilities in the PCH and the QEH for our most sick Islanders.”
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown and the Prince County Hospital in Summerside will become the two main acute care facilities in the province.
All 23 beds at Stewart Memorial Hospital in Tyne Valley will be turned into long-term care beds.
Community Hospital in O’Leary and Souris Hospital will lose their acute care beds in favour of providing alternate level of care (ALC) beds, which are allocated for those who no longer need the high-level care of an acute hospital but still need ongoing assistance.
Western Hospital in Alberton will be turned from an acute care, 24-hour hospital to P.E.I.’s first collaborative emergency centre, known as a CEC.
This model was piloted in Nova Scotia in 2011 and so far has succeeded in keeping three rural hospitals in that province from chronic closures, says Bruce Quigley, CEO of Cumberland Health Authority in Nova Scotia, who attended the announcement in Charlottetown Tuesday.
“What we’ve found is a couple of great benefits (in Nova Scotia),” Quigley said.
“Improved access to primary care seven days a week in the daytime hours when most people need it, and also we’ve been able to recruit five family doctors to three very small communities in Cumberland County and when asked, they’ll tell you one the main reasons they came was because of the CEC.”
A CEC operates as a regular ER in the daytime, when the majority of acute emergency cases present. In the overnight hours, a doctor oversees patient care via telephone.
Currently only about eight patients a month visit the Western Hospital ER overnight.
Turning Western Hospital into a CEC will “ensure the doors remain open 24 hours a day,” Currie said.
Opposition health critic Hal Perry does not see it this way. He believes the changes to these hospitals will mean they will simply become glorified manors.
“The bottom line is, Currie is closing hospitals,” Perry said.
“The bottom line is, Currie is closing hospitals,” - Opposition health critic Hal Perry
“Just because a building is there, doesn’t mean it’s a hospital.”
He questioned how closing acute care beds in rural areas and diverting acute patients to the QEH and PCH will improve wait times when ER waiting periods at QEH are often in excess of eight to 10 hours.
“The QEH is already diverting ambulances, so how do they think they can handle more? We’re jeopardizing lives and stretching an already over-strained ER department.”
But Currie says P.E.I.’s health system is in need of an overall shift in focus to deal with increasingly high volumes chronic disease and cancer rates in the province.
“Spending by our government in the last four years is unprecedented. We’ve seen increases in health care spending by approximately 40 per cent… so, it’s not about more, because as we’ve seen the more we spent it didn’t really make any significant inroads in access for Islanders,” he said.
“We have to redeploy and use the resources and the professionals we have to their full potential and all facilities to their full capacity.”
As part of this announcement, government is also enhancing ambulance services to help facilitate patients getting to the appropriate hospital for the care they require.
Two new ambulances will be added to the current fleet one for the east and one for the west.
An additional ambulance will also be added and dedicated only to transferring patients from one facility to another.
This will mean eight additional paramedics will be hired.
Matt Crossman, general manager for Island EMS, said he believes these measures will help to improve access to emergency care for Islanders across the province.
“We have approximately 3,300 on-Island transfers per year and what we do now is traditionally use our emergency vehicles to provide this service,” he said.
“(The new transfer vehicle) enables our other emergency vehicles to provide quicker and better access while they’re not tied up on non-emergency transports.”
All changes announced Tuesday will be phased in over the next serval months. Currie said most of these changes will be cost neutral for the province, but did not have figures available to quote.
Telehealth coming to P.E.I.
A new Telehealth network will provide Islanders with health advice when and where they need it, 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
Just dial three numbers, 8-1-1, to access non-emergency health information and services.
When Islanders call 811, a nurse will give them advice and information concerning all kinds of general health issues and questions.
Prince Edward Island will partner with Nova Scotia to implement the 811. It should be up and running by fall.