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Alberton's emergency room closure May 23 was third in a week

Western Hospital in Alberton
Western Hospital in Alberton - Contributed

Officials cite last minute sick calls, nursing shortage


For the third time in a week, residents of West Prince were advised on Thursday to call the province’s 8-1-1 health system or visit Prince County Hospital’s emergency department, rather than Western Hospital.

A 24-hour temporary closure of Western Hospital’s emergency department went into effect at 8 a.m. Thursday, due to the unavailability of a physician to cover the shift. The doctor who was scheduled had called in sick. The previous two closures were due to a temporary nursing staff shortage. 

Paul Young, administrator of Community Hospitals West, said the last-minute sick calls are difficult to prepare for, especially when staffing numbers are low to begin with. He noted some staff have recently transitioned to daytime positions and there have been some extended sick and maternity leaves.

“There’s not many folks to be able to pick up and switch and bring in on last-minute notice, unfortunately, so we were a little bit of victim of circumstance.

“We do what we can to try to mitigate those, but, sometimes, they are not avoidable.”

He stressed extensive effort is made to cover all shifts, and staff members regularly shift around their schedules to accommodate.

“That comes at a cost, at a personal cost and a quality of life. We’re grateful for their sacrifice, but equally as committed to making sure we can get back to a point where that sacrifice is as much appreciated and it’s not necessary,” he said.

He said some recent nursing hires and two new doctors joining the rotation will help address the situation.

A ‘Here to Stay’ event last winter looked at ways to attract and retain staff in the region and Young said he’s hopeful the recommendations that came out of that event will bear fruit.

Ernie Hudson, Minister of Social Development and Housing in the new Progressive Conservative government is the MLA for Alberton-Bloomfield. He acknowledged the current issue is similar to the concerns he was hearing on doorsteps during the provincial election campaign.

“We do need to address the challenges. They are not new challenges, but they need to be addressed and to look at how we can move forward on this,” he said.

Asked how things might be done differently going forward he responded, “I would have to say we are a new government. We have new ideas. We’re going to be there to listen.

“We have problems with regard to recruitment. So, let’s hear from front-line staff, how those challenges can be met, and act upon them.”

Hudson said the priority of Islanders across the province is to have quality health care delivered on a continuous basis.

“At the cabinet table, as the MLA, that is what I will be advocating for: For Western Hospital and residents of West Prince.”

He said he hopes to have Health Minister James Aylward up to Alberton soon to meet with staff and administration and work on solutions.

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