There are still 72 Islanders waiting in hospitals for a long-term care bed, the P.E.I. legislature's standing committee on health and wellness heard Tuesday.

Eight months ago, that number was 131 Islanders.  

"That is still an ongoing challenge and we are working really hard on trying to improve that," said Jamie MacDonald, chief administrative officer for Health PEI, of the chronic problem. 

"I would expect, similar to the rest of the country, it will be an ongoing issue with incremental improvements."

'Significant' issue

Those in line for a regular bed are waiting about 12 weeks in Charlottetown — longer in outlying areas. Dementia patients usually wait six months or longer, MacDonald added.

Health PEI CAO Jamie MacDonald

Health PEI is always looking for the best option for medically-discharged patients, says MacDonald, and it's not always long-term care. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The province added 125 new long-term beds to the Island system back in 2013-14, designating some for dementia care. Those beds are now filled, MacDonald said.

"Is it appropriate just to add more beds? What about two years down the road, when there are more older population and they need those beds and they're not available?" 

The government is currently developing a seniors health and wellness strategy due to be released in the spring, MacDonald noted, which will thoroughly examine other options than hospital for keeping senior patients safe and well.  A funding bed allocation group is crunching the numbers of long-term care beds needed.

Enhanced home-care support

MLAs hear daily from residents worried about family members, said Opposition members on the committee. Government should be able to act more quickly, they said,  especially when there are facilities with more beds ready and waiting for government approval. 

"That's a significant short-term issue," said Sidney MacEwen, Opposition health critic. "Seventy-two people in hospital beds today is serious, and we've got private beds available — we need to be filling those beds."

MacDonald suggested there may be opportunities for enhanced home-care support so patients can be discharged to their homes or a home-like location with supports such as day programs.

With files from Laura Meader