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Hundreds filled the Murchison Centre for Health PEI's first annual general meeting. (Brendan Elliott/CBC)

A question about the lack of abortion services on P.E.I. brought applause at Tuesday night's annual general meeting of Health PEI.

Sam White of the newly launched P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization stood up at the meeting to ask about providing abortion services on the Island. P.E.I. is the only province that doesn't perform abortions, and White was interested in particular about Health PEI's position on equal access to health care for low-income Islanders.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull, guest speaker at the meeting and past president of the Canadian Medical Association, was first to respond.

"Primary services should be provided within the constituency within which you live," said Turnbull.

"I can understand patients having to go for tertiary or high-tech services outside of a jurisdiction. We do that within Ontario. But I think we have a responsibility to provide all of the services necessary for a community."

Health PEI CEO Keith Dewar said the subject was controversial, with people bringing different perspectives to it, but said it was largely about resources.

"We do have some challenges in what broader services we do provide here, and we don't provide everything," said Dewar.

"I do understand this is not the same as a heart transplant or whatever in terms of the complexity … We're a province of 144,000 people, it creates some challenges for us in terms of us being able to provide services here no matter what they are. We will do our best."

The P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization has organized a pro-choice rally for Saturday afternoon outside province house.

An F for openness

Health PEI promised to be more open to the public at its first annual general meeting Tuesday night, and acknowledged there have been problems in its first year.

Health PEI is an independent board that oversees health care on the Island. More than 200 people packed into Charlottetown's Murchison Centre for the AGM, and another 130 followed online.

The board gave an overview of what Health PEI had done in its first year, but many attended to ask their own questions or give their opinions.

"For public engagement I give you an F," Dr. Jurgen Kontor told the board.

"This should have started a year ago."

Others asked about the lack of a catastrophic drug plan — New Brunswick, the only other province without one, is currently working on a plan —  the need for a palliative care centre, and the future of midwifery on P.E.I.

Souris town councillor Kenny Peters wanted to know why his town can't seem to keep doctors.

"Our area calls for four doctors. We have two right now and apparently on January first we're down to one," said Peters.

"What do I tell the people that I represent? We need help."

Peters was told the problem facing Souris is one faced by many rural communities across the country.

At the end of the meeting, Health PEI board member Dr. Kinsey Smith said he accepts the failing grade from Dr. Kontor.

"The idea of public engagement, on which we get an F, we have made it clear that this is a turning of the corner to have events that allow interchange between Health PEI and those who own it."

The board's annual report highlights the development of new primary care centres, decreased wait times for many services and improvements in home care services.