Overnight emergency health services will remain closed at Western Hospital in Alberton, P.E.I., until "at least late October" due to staffing shortages, Health P.E.I. said Thursday.
The province said it is possible the closure of the Collaborative Emergency Centre, or CEC, could extend into November if the agency still doesn't have enough employees to do the shifts.
"We've had a very hard time keeping the CEC staffed, and we continue to have problems with that," Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam told CBC News Thursday.
On Aug.1, Health P.E.I. made the decision to close the CEC, which operates between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. AT, until Sept. 15.
Before that, it had been shut down for a day or two dozens of times since January.
The closure will not affect the hospital's emergency department service, which will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m AT daily, a Health P.E.I. news release said.
Goal is improving emergency services
While the CEC is closed, Health P.E.I. said there will be a formal review of the model that's been in place since 2013.
This isn't working for anybody. — Dr. Michael Gardam
The CEC is not a full-fledged ER, like the one in place at the hospital during the day. It operates only overnight, with a registered nurse and advanced care paramedic staffing it, and a doctor available to see patients virtually if need be.
Gardam said it is more like a walk-in clinic than an emergency department.
The CEC in Alberton had been seeing only one or two patients per night, he said.
"We're actively looking at that entire model to figure out how we can provide a better service there, because this isn't working for anybody," Gardam said.
"I know people Up West are upset that we are losing this in the evenings, and we're upset that we're cancelling a service."
"I'd like people to think this is a good thing," Gardam added. "We're looking at all the services we provide, not just Up West but everywhere... It's pretty clear that the CEC model doesn't serve very many people. It also takes a paramedic out of the system, and we desperately need paramedics."
Gardam said the intent is not to remove services from rural P.E.I. and centralize them.
He hinted that for emergencies, a "well-funded, well-positioned ambulance service" could do the same work as the CEC while quickly driving the patient to a larger centre.
He said Health P.E.I. is working diligently to streamline and improve recruitment of health-care staff to make it easier for them to live and work on P.E.I. and hopes to see improvements within a year.
The review will include a review of administrative and clinical data, engagement with staff and physicians, management, leadership and other partners, and a literature review and what is called "jurisdictional scan," which will look at how such services are delivered in other jurisdictions.
Health P.E.I. said planning will include engagement with local staff, communities and the public.