Island EMS to manage mobile mental health units instead of Health PEI
Nurses’ union concerned by ‘privatization’ of program meant to aid Islanders in crisis
Weeks before at least part of the service is supposed to debut, the P.E.I. government has confirmed a change in its plan for a mobile mental health crisis service, saying Island EMS will be in charge of managing the program.
The P.E.I. Nurses union says that amounts to a privatization of the service, which has been under development for years.
Minister of Health and Wellness Ernie Hudson referred to the arrangement as "a partnership" with the private company as part of "a mental health-led initiative."
The province plans to have three mobile units — one based in each of P.E.I.'s three counties — able to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis, along with a 24-hour phone line to operate as a first point of contact for those in distress. Islanders will be able to call 911 or a new toll-free 1-800 number to get help.
The units will operate 12 hours a day, from noon until midnight, and are to be staffed by a mental health professional, a plain-clothes police officer and a paramedic. The province expects as many as 70 per cent of calls could be dealt with without having to send a response unit.
Management role moving
Island EMS, the company that provides ambulance services on P.E.I., was already set to be an integral part of the mobile response unit set-up, with paramedics operating on the three planned mobile response teams and the company staff responsible for handling calls and dispatch.
But this week Hudson and his department confirmed that management of the program is moving from Health PEI to Island EMS.
The whole service, the response times, it has to be seamless.- Ernie Hudson
"We have an organization, we have Island EMS, that has the capability to respond rapidly," Hudson said.
"The whole service, the response times, it has to be seamless. It has to come from an organization, a partner that has that ability and has that history in doing that."
Government said health care staff including nurses and social workers who will be assigned to the response units will still be employees of Health PEI.
But the head of the P.E.I. Nurses Union, Barbara Brookins, said that will put nurses in the difficult position of having a contract with a government agency, but working under the direction of a private employer.
"It's the privatization of the service is what it is," Brookins said.
Brookins said her union's contract with Health PEI doesn't allow the province to sub-contract out nursing positions. She said the union will require some written confirmation that Island EMS will honour the parameters of its collective agreement with Health PEI.
She said two of the six nursing positions are currently filled -- but at least three other nurses were previously hired and ended up leaving before the service was launched.
The positions have been filled, and they've been vacated, and they've been filled again and again. It's been a lot of uncertainty.- Barbara Brookins
In some cases, she said nurses were concerned about their own safety, or just how the units would operate.
"It's been kind of a long process because they're creating the model as they're moving along," Brookins said. "The positions have been filled, and they've been vacated, and they've been filled again and again. It's been a lot of uncertainty, I think, as to how the program was going to look."
In November, the province said the new mobile units should be ready to roll early in 2021.
In February, officials with Health PEI said a new 24-hour emergency response line should be operational by the end of March, but provided no date as to when the mobile response units themselves would be up and running.
No date or cost yet
In debate in the current sitting of the legislature, Hudson has said he's unable to provide a date for when the units will be operational.
The minister also told CBC News it was too early to say how much Island EMS would be paid for managing the program.
A spokesperson for Island EMS — a wholly-owned subsidiary of Medavie Health Services — said the company was not in a position to provide further details, and directed CBC News to contact the provincial government.