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WAYNE YOUNG: Emergency rooms vital for all hospitals

A few years ago, after she endured a throbbing headache far longer than we knew was normal, I took my grown daughter to the hospital's emergency department in Summerside.

She was promptly triaged and listed as non-urgent, so we waited to see a doctor. After three hours, with little hope of seeing one for several more hours, she decided to leave.

A few days later, she returned to the ER with the same headache. But this time, she was also having serious vision problems. She was triaged, saw a doctor right away and was soon on her way by ambulance to hospital in Charlottetown. She was diagnosed with a blood clot in her brain. She received excellent treatment and over time, she made a full recovery.

Thankfully, that was one of our few experiences seeking emergency care at an Island hospital. Regrettably, many Islanders have their own stories of long waits or worse, of no ER service at all at their own hospital.

Alberton's ER was closed for six days over the Christmas holidays because of what a Health P.E.I. official told Saltwire Network was "a perfect storm" - a combination of nursing and physician vacancies for a variety of health and personal reasons.

But any closure of emergency rooms is serious and in a small, rural hospital like Alberton, it fueled fears that the hospital, itself, might be slated to close. Not so, assured the Health P.E.I. official, as it is "the keystone of the community and health care in West Prince."

Still, Mayor Gordon said many people are concerned and he plans to bring the matter up at a town council meeting later this month.

It's a wise move for town fathers to keep the issue in front of decision-makers. In Summerside, the city is taking an even more hands-on approach. Staff from the city's economic development department and local doctors attended a family medical forum in Toronto last fall in an effort to recruit new doctors to the area.

One city councillor suggested money for that trip could have been better spent elsewhere, and that it duplicated work already being done by the province.

I don't think he's right. We should use every lever at our disposal to attract doctors to the province and if a municipality wants to invest in that initiative, then it's tax dollars well spent. We need more doctors and it really doesn't matter who gets the credit for getting them here.

I had a chance to see the five candidates vying to lead the Progressive Conservative party when they came to Summerside for the second of three debates this week. Among other issues, they debated health care - specifically the ER closures, doctor shortages and the ever-growing patient registry.

One of the candidates suggested there's no "silver bullet" solution, but there was no shortage of ideas, among them, more efficient use of available health care professionals, improving infrastructure such as high-speed internet in rural P.E.I. to attract and retain doctors, and spending less money on administration and more on front line workers.

It's an important debate and as the next provincial election nears, we should ask every candidate for their ideas. Then we'll have to decide who is most likely to make the changes necessary to ensure Islanders get top service, not only in the ER but across the health care system.

Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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