Health practitioners question new ER hours at Montague hospital

Health practitioners are concerned about what will happen in the future to the hours at the Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague.

Doctors and nurses wonder if the ER will ever go back to closing at 10 p.m.

Health Minister Robert Mitchell fielded questions from a packed house Thursday night in Montague. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Health practitioners are concerned about what will happen in the future to the hours at the Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague.

At a packed public meeting put on by the PC MLA Steven Myers Thursday night, the crowd was wondering the same thing. Due to consistent ER closures, Health PEI recently changed the hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Extended hours were also added to the health-care centre on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 4 to 7 p.m. to help reduce physician workload. 

But the new hours came as a surprise to the doctors who work in the ER, and they felt like the blame was put on them. 

"Part of our group was just as surprised I think as the public when we heard that the emergency room was closed two hours earlier," said Dr. Thor Christensen, a family doctor and ER physician in Montague. 

"It was kind of touted as, I think, maybe a little bit inaccurately, in that it was physicians driving that and that they weren't ... comfortable with staying so long." 

Dr. Thor Christensen says doctors were surprised at the schedule change. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Christensen did say the schedule wasn't working for many of the doctors — they were working very long hours — but he says, the doctors never wanted the hours changed. Instead they wanted a split shift, one that requires more than what the hospital's budget can cover, which is 14 hours of doctor time per day. 

"It would require 16 hours of funding," he said.

"The first physician would have seven hours, an hour of tidying things up so to speak and handing over any patients that were still there and then the next physician would work eight hours and then again have an extra hour at the end of the night to wrap up."

Health PEI says, for that to be possible, more funding would have to be given to the hospital in the budget process.  Christensen did say that the recruitment of two dedicated ER physicians is a step in the right direction for Kings County. 

Nurses concerned too 

Doctors weren't the only ones showing concern. Mona O'Shea, president of the P.E.I Nurses Union, says nurses are feeling a mix of emotions. 

"Frustrated that there's been no consultation with them in the front line, either the front-line workers or the union. They're somewhat upset in the fact that the communication has been very poor over the last few weeks," she said.

"And there's been literally no communication prior to the announcement in the legislature. And fearful that they're not going to get their hours back, that it's going to stay eight to eight."

Many people who attended the meeting said the same thing to Health Minister Robert Mitchell who was fielding questions.  

Mona O'Shea, president of the P.E.I. Nurses Union, says nurses at Kings County Memorial are frustrated and fearful about the change in hours. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

O'Shea said Health PEI has guaranteed nurses their hours until September. 

Health PEI says the ER schedule changes will remain for the summer, at which time the situation will be re-evaluated with the help of data like patient intake, doctors' hours and the amount of times the ER closes between now and then. 

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  • A previous version of this story said the meeting was hosted by the PC Party. In fact, it was put on by PC MLA Steven Myers.
    Jul 06, 2018 10:20 AM AT

About the Author

Natalia Goodwin

Video Journalist

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.