Emergency rooms a pinch point of overcrowded system, says health official

·3 min read
In the long term Health P.E.I. needs to invest in a variety of services to solve the crisis in the emergency department, says Corinne Rowswell. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)
In the long term Health P.E.I. needs to invest in a variety of services to solve the crisis in the emergency department, says Corinne Rowswell. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)

A crowded emergency department at Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital is a symptom of changes that need to be made across the province's health system, says Health P.E.I. COO Corrine Rowswell.

Letters tabled in the legislature Thursday include a plea from a nurse about how all but one of the treatment rooms in the emergency are full of patients who need to be in hospital but have nowhere else to go. A letter from the medical director of the QEH called the situation "dangerous."

Speaking on Island Morning Friday, Rowswell did not play down the problem.

"The letter … really does highlight the severity of the situation that our health system is facing," she said.

System-wide problems

Rowswell described the problem as being system-wide. A shortage of primary-care doctors, and the resulting more than 20,000 Islanders waiting for a family physician, and a shortage of places for patients to go when they no longer need full hospital care, are both having an impact on the emergency department.

"This is very much related to building home care, insuring that our primary care has the capacity to see patients so that they're not going to the emergency department," she said.

"We are definitely in an investment and building phase at Health P.E.I."

Prince County ER 'struggling' to keep up

A doctor who works in the emergency department at Prince County Hospital told CBC News that that hospital is also struggling with patient capacity issues and a shortage of medical staff.

Dr. Steven MacNeill described the situation in an email, saying "admitted patients in the emergency room take up available beds and consume nursing and staff resources, making less available for new acutely ill patients who need to be seen and managed."

Dr. MacNeill said "many sick or complicated patients are in beds for hours as they are investigated and managed, but not yet admitted. This means that while the number of admitted patients in the ED gives an idea of the lack of available spaces to see new patients, the situation is often even worse than that number suggests."

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

MacNeill went on to say that in recent months the Prince County Hospital emergency department has been using family rooms for inpatient spaces, with patients "sleeping on couches or cots," as staff try to free up treatment space to be able to see new patients.

"There have been times this summer when we had up to 17 of our 19 available stretchers filled with admitted patients," he said.

"While the QEH is struggling with significant overcrowding and challenges to see their patients safely and in a timely manner, this is also true of the other emergency departments, and the public needs to be aware of that."

Lack of long-term care beds compounds problem

Earlier this week Health Minister Ernie Hudson confirmed the province has 42 long-term care beds that are closed due to lack of staff, and there are further beds closed in the private sector.

The beds are closed because staff have been moved to pandemic-related activities. Rowswell is hopeful as those requirements ease, the situation in the emergency department will improve.

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