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Charlottetown may have to take more patients as staffing shortage worsens at Summerside hospital

The Prince County Hospital downgraded its intensive care unit to a progressive care unit last May. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)
The Prince County Hospital downgraded its intensive care unit to a progressive care unit last May. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)

The Prince County Hospital in Summerside may have to divert more patients to Charlottetown if staffing shortages in its progressive care unit cannot be addressed soon, Health P.E.I. says.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is already taking in some intensive care patients from the western end of the Island who, prior to last spring, would've been admitted to the Prince County Hospital.

The PCH hasn't had a fully equipped intensive care unit since last May, when it was downgraded to a progressive care unit.

The issue at that time was a lack of internal medicine doctors. Now, the unit is facing a shortage of nurses and respiratory therapists, said Corinne Rowswell, the interim CEO of Health P.E.I.

"When you have a small complement of staff, it can take just one person to leave, or go on a leave, whether temporarily or permanently, to cause that disruption. And that's really what the issue is."

Corinne Rowswell, the interim CEO of Health P.E.I.
Corinne Rowswell, the interim CEO of Health P.E.I.

'We will have to reassess how patients are cared for so we can maintain that critical care capacity across the province,' says Corinne Rowswell, the interim CEO of Health P.E.I. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Further downgrading the eight-bed unit, or even shutting it down temporarily in the next few days, are among the options Health P.E.I. is considering. That would mean transferring more critical patients to the QEH.

It is also exploring whether staff from other facilities can be moved to the QEH, and has reached out to nurses and respiratory therapists in the private sector to see if they want to pick up extra shifts.

Plan expected by weekend

Rowswell said senior staff will evaluate all the options and hope to have a firm plan in place by the weekend "to potentially avoid major disruption."

"We will have to reassess how patients are cared for so we can maintain that critical care capacity across the province."

Barbara Brookins, head of the P.E.I. Nurses' Union, said Health P.E.I. should've seen the situation coming and acted sooner.

Barbara Brookins, head of the P.E.I. Nurses’ Union
Barbara Brookins, head of the P.E.I. Nurses’ Union

Barbara Brookins, head of the P.E.I. Nurses’ Union, says Health P.E.I. should have been better prepared. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"It's just kind of having that foresight and being a little better prepared and not having a system that is so brittle that one move or two moves or three moves is going to cripple the whole system," she said.

"This is going to impact either our schedules or how we're managing our patient flow right now. So our members need to know as soon as possible."