The doctor will see you now: Kings County ER changes presented to public
'We are trying to make a really strong, concerted and creative effort to try and preserve their services'
Concerned community members packed a public meeting Friday evening in Montague, P.E.I., to hear officials talk about emergency room closures at the Kings County Memorial hospital.
Family physician Dr. Scott Campbell, who also works in the ER, presented solutions and then took questions from the audience of about 60 in an opportunity to explain what is going on behind the scenes at the hospital.
"It's important that people understand that we as doctors feel that this is their emergency room. I want them to understand that we like coming to work everyday, we like looking after people. It is really, truly a privilege to do so," Campbell said.
"We would like to be able to do it better and it really is disappointing when we can't provide as many services as we would like and there are holes in the schedule of the emergency room."
The emergency room operates daily in Montague from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. But it has been closed for various staffing reasons 11 times since Sept. 22, 2017. Seven of those were partial day closures while four were full day.
This forces residents needing emergency care to travel approximately 44 kilometres to Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, as they would after hours.
Campbell outlined how the emergency room currently works, detailing staff requirements and challenges for the community facility.
Changes to keep ER open
He then described two new changes that will soon take effect at the hospital's emergency room.
The first will be a scheduling change. Currently, doctors work a minimum of 14-hour shifts to provide care for the time the ER is open.
That led to concerns the long hours could lead to fatigue, especially as physicians are frequently required to stay late to clear up backlogs of patients still waiting for care.
Campbell said the schedule will be changed to include two doctors working eight-hour shifts so it will be easier to find backfill. The change also reduces risk of physician burnout and conflicts with family practice work.
The second change will require decisions about how many patients can be accommodated during a shift.
The doctors, in consultation with other staff, will determine whether more low-risk patients will be accepted into the emergency room if there are high numbers of people waiting.
But Campbell said high-risk and ambulance patients will always be accepted during the shift.
Montague's Mayor Richard Collins had first heard about the changes when Campbell spoke at a recent council meeting.
"I think they have the right approach here, they are doing it ... to make sure that the general public is aware that these changes are needed, these changes have to come and times are changing," he said at the public meeting.
Better understanding for better care
P.E.I. Health and Wellness Minister Robert Mitchell, who attended Friday night's presentation, said it was good for people affected to get details about the situation first hand.
"So I think this was just invaluable to have Dr. Campbell stand at the front of the room and explain the overall situation and have residents hear [the information] in a very open and transparent way."
Kings County will be fully staffed for doctors when a 12th doctor begins work this summer. Not all of of them work in the Montague emergency room, as some work out of the town of Souris.
Montague has eight doctors in the community, with no vacant positions.
For Campbell, he said he believes the changes will lead to better over all care for patients with more time for local family doctors to see patients in their regular practices, and not in the emergency room.
"It can't be about working more hours because we have home lives as well, we have children and families," Campbell said.
"So if they can appreciate that we are trying to make a really strong, concerted and creative effort to try and preserve their services, I hope that they can appreciate that it comes from a place of goodwill."