Staff shortage at QEH leaves patients waiting days in ER

·3 min read
At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, it is not unusual for patients for wait several days in the emergency department to be admitted, because of a staffing shortage. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)
At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, it is not unusual for patients for wait several days in the emergency department to be admitted, because of a staffing shortage. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

A shortage of spaces for patients at the Island's main hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, "isn't unique to P.E.I.," Health PEI's chief operating officer says.

Patients are waiting "up to several days" in the emergency department to be admitted to the hospital, not because there is a shortage of physical beds, but because the hospital does not have enough staff to safely look after that many patients, explained Dr. Michael Gardam.

"It is a situation that we take very seriously, and this is something that unfortunately is kind of happening across Canada," said Gardam. "It's a very complicated problem with a lot of moving parts, it's not as simple as saying 'open up more beds.'

"This is no secret — we have a very serious shortage of staffing," Gardam said.

The other challenge is the hospital has too many patients waiting to return home or move to restorative or long-term care, he said.

"When you add on some of the changes we made back in [last] March because of COVID-19, what's happened is programs like we used to have, like the restorative care program, got closed so we could free up space, then those staff slowly drifted away because we had so many staff openings, we needed them elsewhere," Gardam said.

Solutions won't happen overnight

Gardam moved to P.E.I. from Toronto last year and became Health PEI's COO in a staffing shakeup at the end of January. He said the staffing shortage was his main priority.

'All the parts are interconnected, they're all understaffed, and we've made changes related to COVID-19 almost a year ago which have negatively impacted our system as well,' says Dr. Michael Gardam, Health PEI's chief operating officer.
'All the parts are interconnected, they're all understaffed, and we've made changes related to COVID-19 almost a year ago which have negatively impacted our system as well,' says Dr. Michael Gardam, Health PEI's chief operating officer.(Craig Chivers/CBC)

He believes P.E.I. is actually doing slightly better with the staffing shortage than Ontario, but said the issue in P.E.I. "clearly needs to be addressed. It's not something that anybody is ignoring."

He said he is hoping the province will approve opening more long-term care beds in April so patients waiting in hospital can move out.

It's not like we're not approaching this from 100 different angles, the trick is it's going to take a while for these things to kick in. — Dr. Michael Gardam

He is also looking at all the hospitals across P.E.I. to see if they have spare beds. People who live in those regions could be moved to those hospitals if they continue to need care.

He noted the province is looking at a large expansion of mental health and addictions services, which will require more staffing. Some patients waiting at the QEH ER would be admitted to that facility in future.

The QEH is also planning to completely reopen Unit 9, the psychiatric ward, which closed last spring to make room for potential COVID-19 cases, but the holdup is staffing for those beds, Gardam said.

"It's not like we're not approaching this from 100 different angles, the trick is it's going to take a while for these things to kick in," Gardam said.

He said strategies the province has recently developed on seniors care, long-term care and primary care to try to keep Islanders out of hospitals and in their homes longer are "fantastic" but will take time to work.

A complicating factor is P.E.I.'s growing population, Gardam said.

"We have roughly the same number of hospital beds now as we've had for a long time, yet our population is growing," he said.

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