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Some Kings County residents say new patient capacity protocol goes too far

Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague
Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague

Some patients of Kings County Memorial Hospital are upset over a recently enacted policy that has “turned away” patients not requiring urgent medical treatment.

Cardigan resident Kennedy de Vries went to the emergency department recently for pains she was experiencing while pregnant.

de Vries said she was assessed, which involved checking her blood pressure, temperature and what medication she was taking, before she was handed a notice that said the hospital had reached capacity and could only see patients with a life-threatening illness or who required urgent care.

Patients like de Vries are now instead advised to return to KCMH the next day, contact their family physician to make an appointment, or to seek care at a 24-hour hospital.

“They said it wasn’t an emergency and to come back, but the thing is I work all day every weekday… it’s not like I could take the day off because that would be a lot off my paycheque,” said de Vries, who added a 50-minute drive would also require gas money.

“If someone is in the hospital before they close, they should be seen. You shouldn’t be sent home… (With some issues, people could have) easily went to the pharmacy. But, for me, a pregnant woman being turned away wasn’t good.”

The new protocol was a result of requests by physicians as a way to keep services sustainable. Previously, the emergency department was open until 10 p.m. with doctors staying late into the night, sometimes until 6 a.m., in order to see every patient.

Dr. Scott Campbell discussed the issue with Montague council in April, stating the conditions compromised patient safety and also resulted in some services being unavailable because staff were unavailable to work the next day.

The working hours also led to difficulties in finding doctors to fill hospital shifts, with the past year seeing about two dozen emergency room closures prior to the patient capacity protocol being implemented June 1.

Since it was implemented, Health P.E.I. said the protocol has led to about 60 patients who have been “re-directed” to other care providers, as of last Friday.

The P.E.I. PC party has described the new protocol as a “cut” to the hospital.

Morell-Mermaid MLA Sidney MacEwen acknowledged the hospital’s staff worked with Health P.E.I. on developing the protocol, and said they also asked for an extra two physician hours per day so they could split shifts.

Sidney MacEwen
Sidney MacEwen

MacEwen said those medical professionals were surprised when the government later reduced physician hours in July, with the hospital’s closing time being shortened by two hours to 8 p.m.

“There were many health professionals who said, ‘That’s not exactly what we agreed to’,” said MacEwen. “Now we’re here with reduced hours and we see a patient capacity issue. “Government should have listened to staff’s ideas in the first place … then they wouldn’t have to turn away a pregnant mother; there would be better family access.”

While the ER hours were reduced, the Montague health-care centre hours were extended at the start of July by six hours a week to reduce physician workload.

However, McEwen said those changes do not help those without a family doctor and that there is no evening walk-in clinic available east of Stratford.

“I feel bad for staff because they never want to turn anybody away… but where is the person supposed to go?” asked MacEwen. “(A lack of walk-in clinics) and if you don’t have a family doctor or are working, that’s why people are going to the ER.”

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