Health PEI meetings about nurse vacancies in ER 'not a good faith discussion,' says union

It does not appear that Health PEI is taking talks regarding filling registered nurse positions in the emergency department at Prince County Hospital seriously, says the P.E.I. Nurses’ Union.

Vacancy rate of 40% forecast for summer

Prince County Hospital has had a number of issues with staffing in recent months. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

It doesn't appear that Health PEI is taking talks about filling registered nurse positions in the emergency department at Prince County Hospital seriously, says the P.E.I. Nurses' Union.

Last month Health PEI said with summer holidays booked it was forecasting a vacancy rate of 40 per cent for nurses in the Summerside hospital's emergency department over the summer, and it had a plan to hire eight paramedics to fill those spots.

P.E.I. Nurses' Union president Barbara Brookins said they asked for a meeting with Health PEI about the situation.

"We wanted to make sure that they had made every effort, I guess, to replace a nurse with a nurse," said Brookins.

The union came to the meeting with a number of ideas that would see those vacant shifts filled with registered nurses, she said, but at a follow-up meeting last week there appeared to be little progress.

"Very little uptake on any of those ideas, so it doesn't seem like it was a very fruitful conversation for sure, and it was certainly not a good faith discussion," said Brookins.

Some ideas being pursued

In an email to CBC News, Health PEI confirmed that paramedics are still being considered as a last resort option to ensure the emergency department stays open.

it is best to replace a nurse with nurse, says P.E.I. Nurses' Union president Barbara Brookins. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"Our priority remains ensuring the PCH emergency department remains open to provide services for Islanders, while giving our staff the opportunity to find time to rest and recharge," the email said.

The email also said while Health PEI did not agree with all the options presented by the PEINU, it is pursuing some of them. In particular, it said it is looking into services that contract nurses to travel to areas where they are needed.

Island EMS did post eight jobs for the hospital, but Health PEI said that's to see if paramedics were interested in the plan at all. 

"We started to look at all the options that we could exhaust to ensure that the shifts get filled with people who can provide the care. Our primary goal is to fill that with nurses," said Corinne Roswell, acting chief operating officer for Health PEI. 

"I think paramedics have a role that they can play within their scope of practice that's well laid out, they're well trained to do this," she said. 

Brookins said filling the vacancies with nurses is important for providing the expected standard of care.

"Some of the skills or tasks may be transferable, but they're certainly not all transferable," she said.

"There's models of care in place for a reason, and it's been identified that registered nurses work in the emergency room. And so if they're going to make changes to that, then you've got to wonder how that's going to impact the service delivery."

Brookins said it was disappointing to sit in a meeting and feel listened to, then find later that that wasn't the case. This is a problem the union has had with government for some time, she said.

Meanwhile, the union that represents the paramedics, CUPE Local 3324, said it's worried about it's own shortages. 

"It just doesn't make sense right now to take from one system that's already critical and put it into another system that's critical," said Jason Woodbury, the local chapter's president.

"Something is going to fail."

Head of Health PEI to be called before committee

On Thursday, MLAs from all parties said they wanted Health PEI's acting CEO Dr. Michael Gardam to appear before the standing committee on health and social development to answer questions on a host of issues, with the situation at Prince County Hospital at the top of the list.

"There's been a lot of contradictory information, a lot of situations where the minister has said one thing, [Health PEI] has said another thing," said Liberal MLA Robert Henderson.

"Yet today there are still problems. Diversions are still occurring on urgent surgeries."

Green MLA Michele Beaton questioned whether recent organizational changes in senior management positions at Health PEI had left the agency without the capacity to plan strategically to address long-term problems.

"Are those senior executive roles filled with full-time people that can actually start the needed work?" she said.

Rather than showing strategic direction, she said the agency of late seems to be, "for lack of a better word, kind of jumping around where the fires are."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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