Changes to P.E.I.'s rural hospitals will improve the efficiency of hospital bed use, says the president of the Medical Society of P.E.I.

'We can't get other, sicker patients into those beds.'— Dr. David Bannon, Medical Society of P.E.I.

Under changes announced Tuesday, Stewart Memorial in Tyne Valley will become a long-term care facility and hospitals in O'Leary and Souris will offer alternate care: a place for palliative, restorative and convalescent patients.

Health Minister Doug Currie said 40 per cent of acute care beds at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown and the Prince County Hospital in Summerside are being used by people who don't need acute care. Dr. David Bannon, president of the Medical Society of P.E.I., agrees the Island's hospital resources could be use more efficiently and effectively.

"We can't get other, sicker patients into those beds, and we produce delays and wait times," said Bannon.

"The concept here is really quite clear. We're going to look at the whole provincial map of beds. In fact, the study is coming very shortly that has been commissioned and been completed by an outside consultant that's looking at making that flow as efficient as possible."

Emergency services changed

It was also announced Tuesday that Western Hospital in Alberton will have its emergency department changed into a collaborative emergency centre during the night.

'Is it a watering down of our system up here.'— Natasha Dunn, Keep Our Western Hospital Open

That means the emergency room will not have a doctor on-staff overnight at the hospital. Instead, two health professionals, along with a mix of paramedics, nurse practitioners and/or registered nurses will handle cases with access to an ER doctor by phone.

Health PEI says the CEC is not meant as a full replacement for an emergency department. Patients with life-threatening emergencies — such as suspected heart attack or stroke — should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Natasha Dunn, chair of Keep Our Western Hospital Open, said her group is concerned both about people coming to the hospital with problems, and those who are staying there that might have a health emergency.

"They're worried that they're not going to get the level of care that they need," said Dunn.

"I think residents are leery as to what this is actually going to mean and is it a watering down of our system up here. I know we've had trouble with doctor recruitment up here for years in West Prince, but the government knew that was a problem, so what were they doing to try to help solve that?"

Dunn is happy to hear the province is establishing a rapid response team in the region, which is a fully-trained emergency care professional who will respond to 911 calls, sometimes arriving before an ambulance.