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No reopening in sight for Western Hospital's overnight emergency centre

Health officials can't predict when Western Hospital Alberton, P.E.I. might solve its staffing issues, says Dylana Arsenault, executive director of hospital services and patient flow with Health P.E.I. (Rick Gibbs/CBC - image credit)
Health officials can't predict when Western Hospital Alberton, P.E.I. might solve its staffing issues, says Dylana Arsenault, executive director of hospital services and patient flow with Health P.E.I. (Rick Gibbs/CBC - image credit)

High vacancy rates in nursing positions at Western Hospital in Alberton, P.E.I., make it unlikely that the facility will reopen its emergency care centre in the foreseeable future.

Before its closure in August 2022, the hospital's Collaborative Emergency Centre (CEC) offered emergency care provided by nurses and paramedics from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

"[The CEC] will remain closed until we can actually adjust our staffing levels," said Dylana Arsenault, executive director of hospital services and patient flow for Health P.E.I.

"We don't have a crystal ball on when that will improve."

Western still runs an emergency department during the day, despite a 30 per cent vacancy rate in its nursing staff. Meanwhile, the nursing vacancy rate for the hospital's in-patient unit is between 50 and 60 per cent, Arsenault said.

Those vacant positions have created challenges for the emergency department, resulting in regular closures. There were 35 days affected by closures in 2023 and three so far this year, the most recent on Saturday.

System more cumbersome

Even when the CEC was open, cases requiring a doctor's attention were transported to Prince County Hospital in Summerside, about 65 kilometres away.

Severe cases picked by an Island EMS ambulance would go directly to PCH. Nurses and paramedics at the CEC could also decide whether patients should be transferred.

Since the closure almost two years ago, anyone seeking emergency care must travel to the PCH.

"As a system, we've done as much as we can to attempt to mitigate that by partnering with Island EMS to make sure that we have good protocols for transportation," said Arsenault.

"It makes the system more cumbersome, for sure, because it means that patients can't stay in the area where they're from and be able to receive that care."

But Arsenault said Prince County Hospital has not been severely impacted, nothing that when the CEC was open, it saw about 280 patients a year, or less than one a night.