Health-care advocates on P.E.I. say the entire health system on the Island needs to be revamped from top to bottom.
Health P.E.I. announced yesterday that at the Western Hospital in Alberton, the Collaborative Emergency Centre which provides overnight health services in West Prince, will remain closed until at least late October while a formal review of rural health services is completed.
"I think the problem is much more fundamental than an ER," said Alan MacPhee of Souris, the former chair of Islandwide Hospital Access, a group that lobbied government for better access to health care for rural Islanders from 2012 to 2016.
He said his group predicted the tsunami of problems the health-care system across Canada is seeing with staffing shortages causing long waits for ambulances, hospital beds and hospital ER closures.
I'm really concerned with the fact that we're just getting out of the gates now when we should have been out of the gates well before this. — Michele Beaton
"We saw it 10 years ago, we shouted about it, but we were like the little boy in the dyke or Little Red Riding Hood or one of those stories where it was hard to get listened to," McPhee said. "Often people don't listen to the forecast, they deal with the rain when it comes, and it's just starting to rain."
MacPhee said he believes the entire public health-care system will collapse unless change happens immediately.
He believes training more doctors, and other health-care staff, is key to that success.
"There's got to be a radical restructuring happen in all aspects of educational, certification, and in distribution and delivery [of doctors and health-care staff]," he said, advising government to "burn the structure to the ground" and start over.
He said he has been discussing with some national organizations the possibility of a national class-action lawsuit against governments for failure to deliver basic health care.
Retention, public paramedics seen as key
Official Opposition health critic Michele Beaton said she is not surprised with the extended closure of overnight services at the Alberton hospital, and said rural Islanders deserve better.
A review of emergency services in P.E.I. is long overdue, she said.
"That review should have been launched ages ago. This is not a new problem that we're having. These rural hospitals have been closed on again and off again for years," Beaton said.
"I'm really concerned with the fact that we're just getting out of the gates now when we should have been out of the gates well before this."
Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam said the intent of the review is not to remove services from rural areas, but to improve access to care for all Islanders.
Beaton said she thinks the pressing issue is a lack of accountability, and she'd like to see Health Minister Ernie Hudson step forward with a comprehensive plan.
Retention of health-care workers is another key to system reform, she said. Four family physicians on P.E.I. left their practices this spring and summer, with another dumping some patients to ease his workload.
"We can't lose more health-care workers," Beaton said. "We need to address what the frontline health-care workers need in order to feel valued and respected."
She thinks another solution could be including paramedics in P.E.I.'s health system, not just those contracted by government through the privately-run ambulance service Island EMS, operated by Medavie.
"I think changing the system to look at having public paramedicine within our health-care system will be critical," Beaton said.