Staff shortages top priority for new Health PEI COO

·3 min read

P.E.I. has struggled with a shortage of family physicians for more than a decade, nurse shortages are a continuing problem, and Dr. Michael Gardam wants to find out why.

Starting Friday, Gardam is the new chief operating officer at Health PEI. His appointment is part of a rejig at the top of the administrative structure, announced Thursday.

As he was starting his first day in his new position, he told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier that the whole system is understaffed.

"We need to figure out why people may come to work with us and then leave, and we need to fix that," said Gardam.

"P.E.I. has a lot of things that should be attractive to a workforce and yet we're unable to get there. To me, that is probably going to be my number one priority."

Enormous potential

Gardam moved to P.E.I. last year for a temporary position as senior advisor at Health PEI.

He arrived with experience working in health systems in Ontario, the United States, Ireland and New Zealand. While all these places are different, he said, there are lessons that can be applied everywhere.

For someone who likes systems and innovation, this is a really neat place to be...We're small enough to make some really significant changes. - Dr. Michael Gardam

Gardam said he decided to stay because he sees enormous potential on the Island.

"For someone who likes systems and innovation, this is a really neat place to be," he said.

"We're small enough to make some really significant changes and I think we can be a model for the rest of Canada."

Tearing down the silos

One of those changes started with the organizational switches at the top of Health PEI this week.

Gardam and new Chief Medical Officer Dr. Katherine McNally will oversee all of health care: mental, physical, and home.

Gardam said health care on P.E.I. has become increasingly siloed, and that needs to change.

"We're not treating illness here. We're treating people, and people often have a variety of challenges," he said.

"As you move through the system and as we help you get home, maybe with supports, etc, [it should be] seamless, that you're not constantly figuring out what to do or who to speak to, that the system is really revolving around you."

Getting doctors on board

Gardam also wants to bring Health PEI and physicians more in line together.

He said doctors and Health PEI have different ideas about where the health-care system should be going. This is not unusual, he said, but the system will benefit if those ideas can be brought together and everyone is pulling in the same direction.

We need to fight our way out of this. We need to figure out how to make things better. — Dr. Michael Gardam

"We need to bring them into the fold, because we frankly can't do health care without doctors," said Gardam.

It won't be easy to get everyone on the same page and it will take time, he acknowledged. He said doctors are skeptical of political decisions about health care and there is nothing wrong with that.

"Everybody needs to be skeptical, everybody needs to question, we need to have debates. It can't just be following the party line," he said.

"We need to fight our way out of this. We need to figure out how to make things better. There's really smart people on this Island and I have no doubt we'll be able to do this."

While there will be challenges getting everyone moving together, everyone believes that change is necessary, he said, and that has the P.E.I. health-care system in a position to do great things.

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