PEI

Nursing union blames poor planning on closure of Charlottetown's psychiatric urgent care clinic

The psychiatric urgent care clinic in Charlottetown has closed temporarily due to a lack of staffing. The P.E.I. Nurses' Union says it doesn't have enough staff to cover services there as well as at the recently reopened Unit 9 psychiatric ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Health minister hopes clinic will reopen in a couple of days

Psychiatric urgent care clinics were set up in April at the Hillsborough Hospital and the Prince County Hospital to divert mental health patients from emergency rooms. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The P.E.I. Nurses' Union says there aren't enough nurses to staff both the Unit 9 psychiatric ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Charlottetown psychiatric urgent care clinic, or PUCC.

The PUCC in Charlottetown closed temporarily Friday due to a nursing shortage. The clinic is located at Hillsborough Hospital next door to the QEH and is usually open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Unit 9 reopened to mental health patients partially on Monday after being shut down in the spring as a psychiatric ward. 

Nurses' union president Mona O'Shea told CBC News that the 10 nurses from Unit 9 who were reassigned to the PUCC in the spring, moved back to the unit this week, leaving no nurses at the clinic. She said the province's poor planning is to blame for the closure.

"Did they know … that they need nurses there for 24 hours a day, seven days a week? If they didn't have the schedule worked out that met those guidelines, then planning was not done properly."

Nursing staff have been "bounced around" since the spring and "we're seeing now the outcome of that," said O'Shea. "The employer has not planned well enough in advance to take care of the number of positions required for the services they have opened."

The province opened PUCCs in Charlottetown and at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside in April to help those in mental health crisis, instead of them being seen at hospital emergency departments. Those seen at the emergency department in Charlottetown used to be admitted to Unit 9, if they required hospitalization.

The province has about 200 vacant positions for nurses, according to Mona O'Shea, president of the P.E.I. Nurses' Union. (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

Health Minister James Aylward said Friday there were a number of factors involved in the closure of the PUCC in Charlottetown. 

"There's been a lot of recruitment at Veterans Affairs, taking RNs out of our stream, there's Unit 9 reopening, there's redeployment during COVID. COVID's really turned the health-care system upside down," said Aylward. 

He said for now, Islanders can access all the services the PUCC was providing at the QEH emergency department. 

Aylward said Health PEI is on the hunt for nurses to work at the PUCC and he hopes it'll reopen in a couple of days.

They're not closing permanently— Health Minister James Aylward

"All hands on deck, to make sure we're able to deploy the necessary resources, the necessary staff to get PUCC up and running again," said the health minister.

"I stand here today, promising Islanders the PUCCs will not wind down. They're not closing permanently. We have just a short glitch here with resources, human resources."

'We're putting all resources behind locating, recruiting the staff we need,' says P.E.I. Health Minister James Aylward (Brian Higgins/CBC News)

O'Shea isn't sure where they're going to find those extra nurses, since there are about 200 nursing vacancies across P.E.I. right now. She said some nurses have retired or moved away since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Really, posting the positions is robbing Peter to pay Paul," she said.

She suggested the province offer better incentives and ways to improve recruitment and retention.

O'Shea said nurses were being asked to work 24-hour shifts to cover the needs of both facilities and didn't feel it was a good solution for the nurses or the patients.

"Front-line nurses are definitely having to adapt to uncertain conditions and everyone is doing their very best to meet extraordinary demands in a rapidly changing environment," she said.

Unit 9 has 20 beds — six of which are open now for mental health patients. Eight other beds are occupied by patients with dementia waiting for a space in a long-term care facility. 

The PUCC at the Prince County Hospital remains open.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sally Pitt

Producer

Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at sally.pitt@cbc.ca.

With files from Steve Bruce

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