P.E.I.'s 2 ICUs facing nurse staffing crunch

·3 min read

Health PEI says the province's two intensive care units are operating at reduced capacity, all as a result of a nurse staffing crunch.

According to the agency, only four of the six ICU beds at Summerside's Prince County Hospital are operational. That's because 9.6 of the 15.6 ICU nurse positions there are vacant.

At Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, just eight of the 10 ICU beds are open. The agency says between the ICU and the critical care unit, which share staff, there are 5.9 vacant nursing positions.

'It's huge when you get a loss from the ICU'

The P.E.I. Nurses' Union says while many areas of health care continue to face staffing shortages, recruiting and training ICU nurses has proven particularly challenging.

"When you get vacancies in areas like ICU, you can't just train an ICU nurse in two weeks," said Barbara Brookin, the union's president. "It's six months minimum before you get a nurse that works in ICU able to work as a second, or take charge of patients and not just supporting the other nurses. So it's huge when you get a loss from ICU."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

According to the union president, nurses from other departments have been shuffled around to cover some ICU shifts.

Health PEI says while the staffing crunch has been manageable to date, it would become more challenging if P.E.I. saw a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases, and increased demand for ICU beds and ventilators.

"We could have a certain number of ventilators at Prince County Hospital. But if we don't have the nursing level to safely look after them, we wouldn't be able to receive that ventilated patient," said Arlene Gallant-Bernard, the hospital's chief administrative officer.

"They probably would look at going to QEH, or on some occasions, we'd have to send them off-Island."

Bubble closure hurting recruitment

Gallant-Bernard said Health PEI is advertising the ICU nursing positions across Canada. The agency's also offering a $5,000 signing bonus, plus $10,000 to cover moving expenses.

But she said the pandemic and closure of the Atlantic bubble have made finding nurses more challenging.

Normally, she said, there are nurses living in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, willing to travel here to work during the week.

"People have been in those arrangements. But it's getting harder now to make that look appealing because of all the guidelines. And every province's guidelines are a bit different," said Gallant-Bernard.

"So when we had the bubble, we had a much broader group to draw from. But now we don't have that."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Though one aspect of the pandemic is giving the hospital CAO some recruitment hope.

She said the fact P.E.I. has had relatively few COVID-19 cases, restrictions, and health-care pressures should make it a more attractive place for nurses.

"It's a very appealing place to come to right now," she said. "So I think if we can recruit, now is the time."

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