Psychiatric urgent care clinic at PCH 'absorbed' by emergency department, says health minister

Members of the Official Opposition are left with questions following confusion in the legislature over the status of the psychiatric urgent care clinic at the Prince County Hospital.

'Done in secrecy so the public doesn't know what is going on,' says Opposition

P.E.I.'s health minister says people seeking care from the psychiatric urgent care clinic in Summerside can access service through the emergency department at the Prince County Hospital. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Members of the Official Opposition are left with questions following confusion in the legislature over the status of the psychiatric urgent care clinic at the Prince County Hospital.

Psychiatric urgent care clinics (PUCCs) were established in Summerside and Charlottetown early in the pandemic to help people in mental health crisis. The clinics were set up as a place for people to go for specialized support, and also divert them away from the emergency departments. 

The PUCC in Charlottetown operated from April until the end of October at the Hillsborough Hospital, just around the corner from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. It closed at the end of October due to a nursing shortage, and patients were directed to the QEH ER instead.

Green MLA Trish Altass questioned government about the status of the PUCC at the PCH in the legislature, Tuesday.

Altass told CBC News she's heard from constituents and healthcare staff who had questions about the psychiatric care services being offered at the Prince County Hospital and concerns about whether the PUCC model was continuing there. Speaking in the legislative chamber, she asked Health Minister Ernie Hudson for an update on the status of the PUCC in Summerside.

"Is the PUCC at Prince County Hospital open and still operational?" 

PUCC 'absorbed' by ER

Hudson said the PUCCs were put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the clinic at the PCH has now been "absorbed by the Prince County Hospital emergency department."

According to a spokesperson with the department, the PUCC at PCH was integrated into the emergency department in fall 2020 — around the same time the PUCC at the Hillsborough Hospital was closed and moved to the QEH emergency room. 

According to the department, prior to the change at Prince County Hospital, a person seeking services from the PUCC would enter the hospital and go to an area separate from the emergency room where they would be seen by specialized staff, including a mental health nurse, social worker and a psychiatrist. 

Health minister Ernie Hudson says patients will still be able to access the same level of care they would have received at the PUCC when presenting to the PCH emergency room. (Al McCormick/CBC)

The province says patients now go directly to the emergency room where they are triaged and seen by staff who are still dedicated to the mental health care teams that worked in the PUCC. According to the province, all staffing positions were maintained when the PUCC was absorbed into the emergency department.

"I do have to stress that the services that were provided at the psychiatric urgent care clinics both now at Prince County and the Queen Elizabeth are still in place," Hudson said. 

Hudson said prior to the pandemic there was a mental health crisis service team operating at the PCH emergency room. A spokesperson with the province said that team moved to a different part of the hospital early in the pandemic and began offering those service as the PUCC and that that staff has now moved back to the ER. 

'Nobody was told'

Altass told CBC News one of the benefits of the PUCCs was the fact that they allow patients to receive care without having to go to the emergency room and she's concerned the public wasn't notified that these changes were made. 

"They were a very successful model that really allowed Islanders who were in a mental health crisis to get the supports that they needed in a timely manner and in an appropriate space removed from the busyness and chaos and the stress of an ER," Altass said.

"It is disappointing that, that service has been thrown away rather than, how can we continue and build on this successful model and even more disappointing that nobody was told about it."

Green MLA and Opposition health critic, Trish Altass asked the health minister for an updates on the status of the PUCC at the Prince County Hospital. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

She said she was not aware the service has been operating out of the emergency department since last fall at PCH. 

"It is unacceptable that we are not getting clear answers," Altass said. 

"This government needs to be able to learn and to acknowledge what is working and to simply throw this away, and not just to simply throw away the idea of the PUCCs, but to do it in such a way that it is done in secrecy so the public doesn't know what is going on or what to expect when they are going to access these services is unacceptable." 

Hudson said the PUCCs were successful and the province received good feedback from people who used them. 

He said the department will continue to evaluate how the service is being run now and he's prepared to look at ways to make improvements if necessary.

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