Two government cabinet ministers faced repeated questions over the past week about recent closures of the Western Hospital in Alberton.
The hospital has seen closures of its emergency room in recent months due to a lack of coverage from nurses.
During question period on Thursday, Liberal MLA Hal Perry asked Health Minister James Aylward about the closures.
“How many dates were there closures of the (Collaborative Emergency Centre), ER or both at Western Hospital since April of 2019?” Perry asked.
Ernie Hudson, MLA for Alberton-Bloomfield, responded to the question in place of Aylward. He stated that, as of April 2019, 70 per cent of the nursing positions at Western Hospital had been vacant. He said there was now a full complement of nurses.
Hudson also stated that over the last year, there were only four closures of the Alberton Hospital’s Collaborative Emergency Centre.
However, based on a tally of announced closures compiled by The Guardian, Western Hospital closed either its Emergency Room or the overnight Collaborative Emergency Centre for all or part of 14 days, or 168 total hours, since the beginning of 2020. By this date in 2019, Western Hospital had seen closures for all or part of five days, or 72 hours. Over the course of 2019, the hospital saw 252 hours of closures.
Husdon also referred to other improvements made in the hospital since the last election.
“We’ve refurbished, improved the palliative care unit at Western Hospital, refurbished and improved the dialysis unit at Western Hospital,” he said.
All 2020 closures have been due to a lack of coverage from registered nurses. However, in February, the province announced the hospital had hired a full complement of nurses.
“Why does it keep closing if you have a full complement of nurses?” Green MLA Trish Altass asked Aylward during a consideration of estimates on Thursday night.
“Staff do get sick from time to time. Those are essentially the reasons why we have had the very rare closure,” Aylward replied.
“We work extremely hard within Health P.E.I. to mitigate any potential closures by redeploying staff. But it’s not always possible.”
“If we have the full complement and, due to sick days, we still have to have closures, have we ever considered re-evaluating this complement? Is it sufficient?” Altass asked.
Aylward said Health P.E.I. is “always re-evaluating our complement of staff”.
“We would love to be able to have surplus nurses in the wings but, as I said before, there are a certain number of vacancies across P.E.I.,” Aylward said.
Aylward said staff in neighbouring health facilities are often relied upon to fill sick days or vacation shifts.
Perry asked Aylward about Hudson’s claim that there had been a 70 per cent vacancy of nurses at Western Hospital that had been completely filled.
Perry referred to a budget line item that was allocated for salaries for Community Hospitals – West. This amount was $93,500 more than the amount allocated for salaries in last year’s 2019-2020 budget estimate.
“There was a 70 per cent vacancy in nurses. And now you have zero per cent vacancy in nurses. Why doesn’t the salary line reflect that?” Perry asked.
“If you like, I can ask staff to research that and bring that back,” Aylward replied.
“I would appreciate that,” Perry said.