Summerside major tackles health-care concerns with town hall

Summerside major tackles health-care concerns with town hall

The mayor of Summerside hosted a town hall on Wednesday night, giving residents the chance to speak with some of PEI’s top health officials.

“The conversation so often is driven by responses to crises,” said Major Dan Kutcher.

“I wanted to make sure that we are optimistic and hopeful and see a path forward … and understand what the vision is for the future of health-care services in our community.”

There is a shortage of medical professionals all across PEI. In Summerside, concerns have been raised recently following news that two internal medicine physicians would be leaving the Prince County Hospital (PCH).

Earlier this month, the hospital was also without anesthesia services for about a week.

“I’m worried. I’m concerned, and I think we all should be to a degree,” said Kutcher.

“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

PCH ‘can never ever ever close’

The room at the Credit Union Center was packed full, with about 180 people in attendance including the CEO of Health PEI, the minister of health and wellness and the PCH medical director.

There was the occasional laugh as the PCH medical director shared his all-too-familiar tale of “I married an Islander,” when asked why he is a doctor in the province. But for the most part, the crowd was silent while listening to Health PEI CEO Dr Michael Gardam.

“The big elephant in the room is what we need more people,” Gardam told the audience.

“We historically have had the oldest doctors in Canada … We are seeing enormous numbers of retirements, and again the pandemic was the final straw.”

Rows of chairs face towards a long table at the front of the room.  At the table sit five people with the PEI health care system.  The major of Summerside is standing at a mic off to the side.
About 180 people attended the town hall on Wednesday, including the CEO of Health PEI, the minister of health and wellness and the PCH medical director. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

There are other things to take into consideration as well, he said. For example, when an older doctor leaves more than one younger doctor tends to be needed to cover that individual’s workload. There is also the fact that PEI is a smaller province, making recruitment more difficult. For Summerside in particular, there is what he called the “awkward size” of the PCH.

“If you only have three of a type of doctor and one doctor’s leaves, you’ve lost 33 per cent of your doctors,” said Gardam.

“So we don’t need to shrink services at Prince County Hospital, we need to grow them … Prince County Hospital can never ever close. The whole province would collapse if Prince County Hospital closed.”

‘Air those concerns’

Members of the public at the meeting asked questions, made suggestions, and shared anecdotes.

One registered nurse from the PCH said she felt “warmth and love” at work, while a licensed practical nurse expressed frustration about the working environment.

Man in medical setting smiling for the camera.
“You either scale back services and say we’re just not going to offer that anymore, which would be suicide for the Island,” says Dr. Michael Gardam, ‘or you grow it. So we’re going to have to grow it.’ (Shane Fowler/CBC)

“It was an opportunity for people to express their fears because there’s a lot right now with our health system hurting the way it is,” said PCH medical director Dr. Tyler McDonell.

“I think it was very positive that we could air those concerns … talk about some of the big-time background work that’s going on in our health system to try and result in future improvements.”

Having open conversations

Moving forward, Major Kutcher said he would be meeting with Gardam and the chair of the PCH Foundation quarterly to discuss the status of the hospital and plans for its future.

“I don’t think we should be afraid of difficult conversations or what challenges us as a community,” he said.

“What we need to do is to show leadership and to be open…be transparent, be approachable and have these conversations.”

About 180 people sit forward in rows in eight rows of chairs during a town hall meeting in Summerside.
‘I think it was hugely needed. I think it was successful in ensuring people can get together on the same page and roll this boat in the same direction,’ says PCH medical director Dr. Tyler McDonell. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

Gardam said he would like to take part in similar events in the future.

“I really tried to explain to people why we are in the staffing crunch that we’re in,” he said.

“It’s not because it’s a toxic workplace, it’s not because we don’t know how to treat our staff. It’s because people are retiring, people are tired, they’re burned out from the pandemic, and when you’re short-staffed , people get more tired and they leave.

“That’s not anybody’s fault, that’s just the reality and we have to try to reverse that.”

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