The P.E.I. Department of Health and Health P.E.I. announced major changes Tuesday afternoon to how it is delivering health services.

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The system needs to change to meet new needs, says Health Minister Doug Currie. (CBC)

No changes to services at the Island's two main hospitals in Charlottetown and Summerside or at Montague Hospital were announced, but the Island's four other hospitals will see big changes.

  • Stewart Memorial in Tyne Valley will become a long-term care facility.
  • In Alberton, the Western Hospital emergency department will move to a collaborative emergency centre model in the overnight hours. The centre will be staffed by a mix of paramedics, registered nurses and/or nurse practitioners, who will consult with an ER physician by phone.
  • Community Hospital in O'Leary and Souris Hospital will become extended-care facilities. Acute care beds will be closed in favour of "alternate level of care" beds. Alternate level of care is described as being for patients who need some care — such as restorative, convalescent, palliative, or respite — but do not require the specialized care of an acute-care bed.

"The mix of services currently provided at our hospital facilities has not kept pace with the changing needs of our population," said Health Minister Doug Currie in a news release.

"Improvements are necessary to ensure that Islanders have access to the services they require, when they need them most."

The province will also establish a telehealth service, available by dialing 811. The 24-hour help line will provide callers with free health information and advice, including recommendations on whether callers should seek treatment at a health care facility.

Dr. Richard Wedge, interim CEO of Health PEI, said taking doctors from the overnight emergency shifts at Western Hospital will mean easier access for people in West Prince to their family doctor.

"Because they're interrupted with their sleep at night they're not able to work the next day, which decreases their availability for their normal job in primary care," Wedge told CBC News at a media briefing.

Last year, the province made an effort to consolidate dialysis service in Charlottetown and Summerside, but appears now to have abandoned that idea. Dialysis service will continue at Western and Souris hospitals.

The changes announced Tuesday are expected to be in place by this fall.