P.E.I.'s health authority is in discussions with private physiotherapy providers as it seeks to address a staff shortage affecting patient care at the Western Hospital in Alberton and the Community Hospital in O'Leary, P.E.I.
The two hospitals share a combined 2.6 full-time-equivalent positions for physiotherapists — but according to Health PEI — all of those positions have been vacant since March.
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A request for proposals seeking a private company to provide service for up to two years, was issued earlier in the summer, but Health PEI said it received no bids.
Paul Young, the administrator of community hospitals west for Health PEI, said the authority is now exploring further private options to make up for some of the service shortages.
"We do have the opportunity to go to some of the private practices that expressed an initial interest, to look at [whether] we can negotiate a half-way point that would work for them and provide some sort of support for the hospital in the short-term," Young said.
In the meantime, Young said Health PEI is "actively recruiting" to try to fill the positions, and is exploring options to try and encourage residents from the area who are away studying physiotherapy to return once they've completed their training.
"There are some [students] specifically from the area who would like ideally to return to the area, and hopefully we'll be able to recruit them into the public system," Young said.
Young added that last year eight Islanders graduated from physiotherapy programs, but at least seven of them went to work at private clinics.
Wages can't compete, says union
According to the union representing physiotherapists working for Health PEI, the wages the agency is offering simply can't compete with the private sector.
"In the private sector, the physiotherapists are able to make more money," said Paul Beauregard with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 942.
"We're hearing that new grads are trying to pay off their debts, so they're enticed to go off to the private sector. They're able to see more clients, they're able to make more money, more quickly," he said.
"In the private sector, the physiotherapists are able to make more money." -Paul Beauregard
As part of its last collective agreement the union asked for a committee to be struck to examine wages and classifications of physiotherapists and occupational therapists who work for Health PEI.
Health PEI said that committee has been meeting, and any changes to compensation that could emerge as a result would be retroactive to the start date of the last contract with the union in 2015.
'Challenged to meet the needs for all patients'
Young said the current physiotherapist shortage is "absolutely" having an effect on the care provided to patients at the two hospitals.
"We're certainly challenged to be able to meet the needs for all the patients," he said. "We're not able to provide any outpatient support, so all those referrals have to be redirected to Prince County Hospital, which would further contribute to their wait times."
According to Young, some inpatient support is being provided, with staff from Prince County Hospital in Summerside, P.E.I., visiting the two West Prince hospitals. There is also a rehab assistant on staff who can provide physiotherapy services, but only under the supervision of a physiotherapist.
"We're working with what we can to try to minimize some of those impacts, but it certainly is very challenging," Young said.
An earlier version of this story referred to a rehab specialist. It has since been updated to clarify the position is a rehab assistant.Aug 25, 2017 11:55 AM AT