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Understaffed Summerside hospital to accept fewer critical-care patients, says Health P.E.I.

The Prince County Hospital will reduce capacity in its progressive-care unit starting late next week, says Health P.E.I. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)
The Prince County Hospital will reduce capacity in its progressive-care unit starting late next week, says Health P.E.I. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)

Starting in late January, Prince County Hospital in Summerside will accept fewer critical-care patients due to a lack of staff in the progressive-care unit, says Health P.E.I.

Earlier this week, Health P.E.I. said it was considering either cutting services or temporarily shutting down the unit to deal with the staffing shortage.

The plan now is to begin cutting the unit's capacity in about a week, said Corinne Rowswell, the interim CEO of Health P.E.I.

"We are expecting by next week that we'll have to start to move some of our more acute critical-care patients to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," Rowswell said Thursday.

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

Health P.E.I. is working to recruit for the needed positions at the PCH, says Corinne Rowswell, the agency's interim CEO. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The progressive-care unit at the PCH opened last spring to replace the hospital's intensive-care unit, which was closed due to a shortage of internal medicine specialists.

The province's second-largest hospital is now facing a shortage of physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists to staff the unit, Rowswell said.

She said Health P.E.I. is working to recruit for those positions as well as increase staff at the QEH in Charlottetown to handle patients coming from western P.E.I.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Health P.E.I. stressed that despite the changes, people in the region who need medical care should continue to go to the emergency room at Prince County Hospital, saying: "The level of care in [the] emergency department remains the same."

'It's a major, major issue'

The latest changes will mean another two patients every three days on average will need to be cared for in Charlottetown, rather than Summerside.

The eight beds at the PCH progressive-care unit will remain, and Health P.E.I. plans to add two more beds to the eight-bed intensive-care unit at the QEH.

Summerside's deputy mayor says the news is concerning for residents of his city and all Islanders.

We continue to hear from doctors that they can't manage the workloads — that things are starting to crumble at the hospital — and that's very concerning. — Summerside deputy mayor Cory Snow

"It's a major, major issue when services start to erode," said Cory Snow.

"We continue to hear from staff at the hospital that they're concerned. We continue to hear from doctors that they can't manage the workloads — that things are starting to crumble at the hospital — and that's very concerning."

Cory Snow, the councillor for Summerside's Ward 4, photographed in December 2022.
Cory Snow, the councillor for Summerside's Ward 4, photographed in December 2022.

Summerside council will continue to advocate for services to stay at historic levels at the PCH, says Cory Snow, the city's deputy mayor. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC)

Snow said Summerside city council will continue to push the provincial government, and Summerside MLAs in particular, to improve services at the PCH.

Rebuilding the progressive care unit at Summerside's hospital is a priority for Health P.E.I., Rowswell said.

"I like to think of this as a bit of a pressure release," she said. "You have to think about the whole system in terms of what a critical care patient needs."

It's not as simple as moving hospital staff from Charlottetown to Summerside to shore up the progressive care unit there, Rowswell said.

"We don't want two sites that are unstable or not staffed-up enough. We need to maintain one that can deliver the full range of critical care."