Low COVID-19 numbers could bring health professionals to P.E.I, says health minister

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The recruitment of physicians and nurses to the Island remains a top priority for Health PEI in the coming year.

Health Minister James Aylward said low COVID-19 numbers in the province may attract more healthcare professionals.

"[It's] one of the great positives that has come out of the pandemic, and how we've been able to keep the incident rate down here on P.E.I.," he told the Health PEI annual general meeting Tuesday night.

"There are actually two psychiatrists who reached out from Ontario, they are a couple, and they want to move here to P.E.I. and take up practice ... We're seen throughout Canada as one of the safest places to be."

Clearing the backlog

The annual report outlines Health PEI operations from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.

That means only a month of the COVID-19 pandemic is included in the report. Island hospitals are still clearing the backlog, said Health PEI CEO Denise Lewis Fleming.

"Nearly 57 per cent of our cancelled surgeries have been done and completed. And we've contacted everyone else and they have been either rebooked or have decided to defer their booking date," Fleming said.

Natalia Goodwin/CBC
Natalia Goodwin/CBC

"Continuing to work through the remainder of that backlog is definitely a focus in the near term."

Fleming said she is concerned about what might happen if a larger backlog happens during the second wave, now underway in the rest of Canada, but not yet affecting P.E.I.

Fleming said there are also concerns about staff which are still deployed to other areas to help deal with any potential impacts of the pandemic.

"We're working on solutions in order to use people to their full scope of practice in some of our COVID response areas, allowing us to get people back to their home positions so that we can further return closer to normal," she said.

Recruiting for long-term care

Fleming also said COVID-19 affected the amount of long-term care beds in the province — but the main issue has been staffing.

"For the long-term care beds that hadn't been opened, it created a larger challenge when people became restricted to one work site," she said, adding some areas require bilingual staff, creating a recruiting challenge.

In spring of 2018 the then Liberal government made a commitment to add 100 long-term care beds in two years.

Alyward said 24 long-term care beds have been added so far.

Mobile mental health coming soon

The province is also getting ready to launch mobile mental health crisis teams.

The crisis teams will have three streams of workers — a healthcare professional such as a psychologist, members of Island EMS, and specially-trained plain clothes police officers — Aylward said.

Those officers will assist "when and if they are needed," he said.

There will be three mental health crisis locations initially, in Summerside, in Montague and one in Charlottetown.

"It's going to be a staggered approach to begin with. We will start obviously in Queen's County, then look at King's County and then Prince County," he said.

Aylward said he is hoping to announce a schedule for those mobile units and when they will become available in about a week.

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