Health PEI says creative solutions needed to recruit surgeons, nurses

·3 min read
Derek Key, chair of Health PEI's board, says the province needs to come up with more incentives to recruit health-care workers other than offering high salaries. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. - image credit)
Derek Key, chair of Health PEI's board, says the province needs to come up with more incentives to recruit health-care workers other than offering high salaries. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. - image credit)

Prince Edward Island needs creative solutions to recruit surgeons, nurses and other health-care workers to Prince County Hospital, according to Health PEI.

While one new doctor has been hired at PCH, there are still issues of staff shortages, said Derek Key, chair of Health PEI's board, at a legislative standing committee on health and social development in Charlottetown Friday afternoon. The committee met specifically to discuss issues at the PCH.

"It's abundantly clear that notwithstanding the success in bringing forward new bodies to serve in nursing positions or physician positions or any of the rest, there's still a tremendous deficiency," said Key. "How that gets addressed best, I'm not sure anyone has the magic bullet for that."

Twice this past spring, the Summerside hospital had to divert emergency surgeries to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. Because of a shortage in nurses, Health PEI was at one point considering using paramedics to fill in nursing shifts at the PCH emergency department.

"We are challenged by the number of bodies who are available within a system, and I think a very perfect example of that that's very current is we've responded so well to the challenges of COVID. But what it's done is the responders to the challenges … have left so many other areas deficient."

Randy Goodman, a member of Health PEI's board and physiotherapist in Charlottetown, said the issue of recruiting health-care workers is a national problem.

"We have had a shortage of health-care professionals, nurses, physicians, physios [in Canada] for the last 30 years," said Goodman.

Systemic issues

Goodman said some issues of recruiting health-care workers to P.E.I. are at the institutional level.


Goodman said the jobs of recruiting and hiring health-care professionals are divided between Health PEI, the province's Public Service Commission and the Health Department.

"Quite frankly it's a bizarre system," said Goodman, adding that Health PEI has received complaints from health-care workers being recruited and not hearing back from the Public Service Commission.

"Is it appropriate that, you know, someone's waiting six months for a classification on a position? Absolutely not," said Goodman.

"We are working as hard as we can to drive those three organizations to work together."

In regards to the shortage of surgeons at PCH, Key said there were unpreventable issues that came up, which created a difficult staffing situation. One doctor has been on administrative leave since late 2020, one had health issues and another is on long-term disability.

Key said Health PEI's chief medical officer Dr. Katherine McNally and CEO Dr. Michael Gardam have assured him there's a plan to fix Summerside's surgeon shortages, but he does not know the specifics of those plans.

"Do those assurances help me sleep better at night and should they help the people of Prince County sleep better at night? I'd say no," said Key. "Assurances and plans and all those things are all important. They don't necessarily get the job done."

Creative solutions

Key said the province should find other solutions for recruiting health-care workers to P.E.I. other than providing high salaries.

Why can't we provide child care within our facilities? — Derek Key

"I think there's some great creative opportunities that are out there," said Key.

"Why can't we provide child care within our facilities?"

Green MLA Michele Beaton agreed with this idea.

"The percentage of people who work within Health PEI in the front lines, it's a large percentage of females who have families that they need to take care of," Beaton said.

"To have employers that understand what people need where they are in any point in time in their lives is so critically important."

Key also said providing housing for new hires could be a good recruitment incentive. The committee did not discuss if any action would be taken to implement these incentives.

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