PEI

Health PEI reaching out to psychiatrists who've left province to find out why

Health PEI says it’s trying to understand why psychiatrists continue to leave the province, while at the same time developing a short-term plan to provide services with ongoing vacancies in key positions.

1 of 2 psychiatrists to leave Unit 9 since November cited workload as a concern

Health PEI's CEO Denise Lewis Fleming says workload was a concern for one of the psychiatrists who left the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. (Submitted)

Health PEI says it's trying to understand why psychiatrists continue to leave the province, while at the same time developing a short-term plan to provide services with ongoing vacancies in key positions.

Two psychiatrists assigned to Unit 9, the psychiatric unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, have left since November.

Health PEI's CEO Denise Lewis Fleming said one left for personal reasons, and "another did indicate to us that the workload in what he was facing was a concern. And so we are also really concerned about what the psychiatrists are facing here on P.E.I. and their workload."

Lewis Fleming said Health PEI has been reaching out to speak with psychiatrists who have left "in the past couple of years to find out what their concerns are, what can … we be aware of to say 'how do we change things?'"

Workload concerns have long been an issue for Island psychiatrists, as has the number of them working on the P.E.I.

'A huge hole'

The approved, funded complement for the Island is 15 full-time equivalent positions. Preliminary approval to increase that to 20.8 positions has been granted by the province's physician resource planning committee, but funding approval has yet to be provided through the province's treasury board.

Health PEI says there are three vacancies right now. Some positions are currently filled by locums working on a temporary basis, while the province's two positions for child psychiatrists are being filled by doctors working off-Island, providing services over the internet.

The province said it will look to expand tele-psychiatry services to include adult patients in Unit 9, as it seeks to find full-time replacements for the vacant positions there. One locum has been secured to provide services there until Jan. 16.

Health PEI says on Dec. 9 the psychiatrist working in Unit 9, the psychiatric unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, left their position. (CBC )

Official Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker said there are "huge advantages" and "great potential" in the technologies that allow doctors in other locations to assess Island patients using tele-health and tele-psychiatry.

"But we need to understand that there are limits to the effectiveness of that," he said. "Particularly with the lack of a child psychiatrist here in Prince Edward Island I really think that that's a huge hole ... in the health-care system and we perhaps have driven that tele-psychiatry train further than we should have done.

"We need real people here, face to face with our patients wherever possible."

#HowManyWade becomes #HowManyDennis

Amidst those struggles to fill positions, a social media campaign that arose to pressure former premier Wade MacLauchlan to address the problems with the province's mental health-care system appears to be re-emerging, but with a new target.

Sarah Stewart-Clark says she's not at the point of launching a new social media campaign targeting the King government. (Laura Meader/CBC)

#HowManyWade was a campaign created by Sarah Stewart-Clark, a social media activist and Dalhousie University professor, as a vehicle for Island families to share their own stories about struggling to receive treatment for mental-health issues.

In a Facebook post Wednesday evening, Stewart-Clark asked families to keep posting stories of their experiences with mental-health services on the Island and to keep telling their MLAs where the system is working and where it isn't — but asked them to start using the hashtag #HowManyDennis, a reference to P.E.I.'s new premier Dennis King.

The reality is all challenges in our mental health-care system come down to one thing. Money.— Sarah Stewart-Clark

Earlier this year Stewart-Clark, who has P.E.I. roots, ran against King for the leadership of the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Party.

In the post, Stewart-Clark describes "a mental health-care system that is inefficient and is putting patients at risk. It is also a system that is very stressful on the practising psychiatrists who are here because their workload often leads to burnout."

"The reality is all challenges in our mental health-care system come down to one thing. Money," Stewart-Clark wrote in her post. "Our government talks a lot about mental health-care being a priority. But words without action are meaningless."

But in an interview with CBC Thursday, Stewart-Clark said she's not at the point of launching a full-fledged campaign targeting the King government on the scale of #HowManyWade, which included the goal of sharing 100 stories over 100 days.

Stewart-Clark said the online community which has arisen around the #HowManyWade campaign is non-partisan.

"I'm simply an advocate for Islanders with mental health care. I was before I entered politics and I will be for the rest of my life, regardless of who is in power."

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